Library

Welcome to VOX-Pol’s online Library, a research and teaching resource, which collects in one place a large volume of publications related to various aspects of violent online political extremism.

Our searchable database contains material in a variety of different formats including downloadable PDFs, videos, and audio files comprising e-books, book chapters, journal articles, research reports, policy documents and reports, and theses.

All open access material collected in the Library is easy to download. Where the publications are only accessible through subscription, the Library will take you to the publisher’s page from where you can access the material.

We will continue to add more material as it becomes available with the aim of making it the most comprehensive online Library in this field.

If you have any material you think belongs in the Library—whether your own or another authors—please contact us at onlinelibrary@voxpol.eu and we will consider adding it to the Library. It is also our aim to make the Library a truly inclusive multilingual facility and we thus welcome contributions in all languages.

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TitleYearAuthorTypeLinks
Social Media in Mali and its Relation to Violent Extremism: A Youth Perspective
2020 Vermeersch, E., Coleman, J., Demuynck, M. and Dal Santo, E. Report
The influence of social media on the spread of violent extremist narratives and online radicalisation processes has recently become a focal point for research in the fields of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism; however, most of the studies thus far have focused on Western countries and have often been aimed at analysing phenomena such as homegrown and lone wolf terrorism or the online radicalisation of foreign terrorist fighters. Far less evidence-based research has explored the influence of social media on terrorism in Africa and even less regarding Mali in particular. In this report, ICCT and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) seek to fill this gap through an analysis of survey data from youth participants in their joint on-the-ground project in Mali—“Mali (Dis-) Engagement and Re-Integration related to Terrorism” (MERIT)—to determine the implications of social media use for violent extremism in Mali.
Redefining ‘Propaganda’: The Media Strategy of the Islamic State
2020 WInter, C. Article
In this article, Charlie Winter challenges the way in which the word ‘propaganda’ is used in contemporary discourse around war and terrorism. He considers the case of the Islamic State, using it to demonstrate that the term – as it is conventionally understood – is an inadequate tool when it comes to describing the full range of tactical and strategic approaches to communication that are employed by insurgents today. If anything, he contends, ‘propaganda’ refers to an entire information ecosystem in which different media are geared towards different tasks.
The Ecology of Extremists’ Communications: Messaging Effectiveness, Social Environments and Individual Attributes
2020 Hamid, N. Article
Many prevention and countering of violent extremism experts place too much emphasis on the radicalising power of online mass distributed messaging by violent extremist groups. Instead, Nafees Hamid argues that radicalisation takes place in a social ecology within which the messaging of terrorist groups plays only a small role. This article shows that people are resistant to mass persuasion and that certain environments are more conducive to the spread of extremist messaging. Small-group dynamics are useful to explain the spread of ideas and that altering these dynamics can provide a buffer against some ideas while enabling others.
Countering Extremists on Social Media: Challenges for Strategic Communication and Content Moderation
2020 Ganesh, B. and Bright, J. Article
Extremist exploitation of social media platforms is an important regulatory question for civil society, government, and the private sector. Extremists exploit social media for a range of reasons—from spreading hateful narratives and propaganda to financing, recruitment, and sharing operational information. Policy responses to this question fit under two headings, strategic communication and content moderation. At the center of both of these policy responses is a calculation about how best to limit audience exposure to extremist narratives and maintain the marginality of extremist views, while being conscious of rights to free expression and the appropriateness of restrictions on speech. This special issue on “Countering Extremists on Social Media: Challenges for Strategic Communication and Content Moderation” focuses on one form of strategic communication, countering violent extremism. In this editorial we discuss the background and effectiveness of this approach, and introduce five articles which develop multiple strands of research into responses and solutions to extremist exploitation of social media. We conclude by suggesting an agenda for future research on how multistakeholder initiatives to challenge extremist exploitation of social media are conceived, designed, and implemented, and the challenges these initiatives need to surmount.
There and Back Again: How White Nationalist Ephemera Travels Between Online and Offline Spaces
2020 Berger, J.M., Aryaeinejad, K. and Looney, S. Article
This article represents an initial exploration of the content and posting strategies of the current wave of racist flyer drops in the US, focusing specifically on a dataset of all documented flyers posted in 2018. The dataset was generated by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and augmented by the authors. The dataset is unique among open sources and includes a large number of incidents which were not reported in the media. The article consists of three parts. The first documents and briefly discusses the groups engaged in racist flyer development and drops. The second describes and characterises the text and image content of the flyers. The final section uses open sources and leaked material to describe the process by which flyer drops are instigated, planned and documented.
Accelerators, Amplifiers, and Conductors: A Model of Tertiary Deviance in Online White Supremacist Networks
2020 Gottschalk, S. Article
As recent perpetrators of racially-motivated mass-shootings were visitors and contributors to online white supremacist networks, this article presents a preliminary model that attempts to understand the social psychological effects of interacting in these networks. Combining Jonathan Turner’s theory of the social psychological roots of extreme violence, scholarship on the white supremacist movement, and research on computer-mediated communication, it suggests that interactions in online white supremacist networks accelerate the conversion from secondary to tertiary deviance, amplify the negative emotional energy released by this conversion, and, under certain conditions, transform this energy into a violent kinetic force. The model is not unique to online white supremacist networks and will hopefully guide research in other types of networks as well.
The Legal Response Of Western Democracies To Online Terrorism And Extremism
2020 Ramati, N. VOX-Pol Publication
Extremists and terrorists have found the online sphere, and specifically its social networks, to be an efficient tool for advancing their methods and political needs. The legal responses to the resulting threats from this online activity vary from country to country. The immense importance of the Internet in the everyday life of billions of people worldwide has raised difficult questions regarding the attempt to regulate online activity, especially in relation to the right of privacy and freedom of speech. This report examines how western democracies balance, from a legal point of view, the need to protect their populations from terrorist attacks and their duty to preserve the democratic rights of privacy and free speech.
Online Deceptions: Renegotiating Gender Boundaries on ISIS Telegram
2020 Criezis, M. Article
This resarch note examines the ways in which Islamic State supporters on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, renegotiate gender boundaries. The introduction positions receptions of female ISIS accounts in the online space within the context of the roles that women are expected to fill and ISIS’s tentative acceptance of women fighting on the battlefield. An overview of Telegram gender social norms is provided before discussing the methodology used to gather supporting archival data to analyze the renegotiation of gender boundaries on Telegram. This section is followed by an analysis of a case study that considers the wider implications of what this says about women’s agency and involvement in terrorist groups online. The conclusion addresses the policy implications of possible shifts in gender social norms and the shape that women’s engagement in violent jihadist groups might take in the future.
Routing the Extreme Right: Challenges for Social Media Platforms
2020 Conway, M. Article
Between 2014 and 2017, the Islamic State maintained vibrant communities on a range of social media platforms. Due to aggressive account and content takedown policies by the major platforms, these visible communities are now almost non-existent. Following the March 2019 Christchurch attack, the question as to why major platforms cannot rout the extreme right in the same way has repeatedly arisen. In this article, Maura Conway explores why this is not as straightforward as it may seem.
The temporal evolution of a far-right forum
2020 Kleinberg, B., van der Vegt, I. and Gill, P. Article
The increased threat of right-wing extremist violence necessitates a better understanding of online extremism. Radical message boards, small-scale social media platforms, and other internet fringes have been reported to fuel hatred. The current paper examines data from the right-wing forum Stormfront between 2001 and 2015. We specifically aim to understand the development of user activity and the use of extremist language. Various time-series models depict posting frequency and the prevalence and intensity of extremist language. Individual user analyses examine whether some super users dominate the forum. The results suggest that structural break models capture the forum evolution better than stationary or linear change models. We observed an increase of forum engagement followed by a decrease towards the end of the time range. However, the proportion of extremist language on the forum increased in a step-wise matter until the early summer of 2011, followed by a decrease. This temporal development suggests that forum rhetoric did not necessarily become more extreme over time. Individual user analysis revealed that super forum users accounted for the vast majority of posts and of extremist language. These users differed from normal users in their evolution of forum engagement.
Mapping the online presence and activities of the Islamic State’s unofficial propaganda cell: Ahlut-Tawhid Publications
2020 Lakomy, M. Article
This paper, which takes the form of a case study, aims to contribute to the debate on activities of the Islamic State’s unofficial media bureaus. Based on tools of open source intelligence, as well as a limited content analysis, it maps the online presence and activities of Ahlut-Tawhid Publications (AHP). Its means of distributing pro-Daesh content in the surface web as well as its general impact are discussed. It also deliberates on the interconnectedness of AHP with other online propaganda cells supporting the self-proclaimed “Caliphate.” This paper argues that this group was part of the ongoing online campaign of the Islamic State in the World Wide Web in 2018 and 2019. It maintained quite an impressive and long-lasting online presence, combining the potential of the most popular microblogs, hosting services and social media with the flexibility of standalone websites. In contrast to the most recognized propaganda cells of Daesh, such as al-Hayat Media Centre or Amaq News Agency whose productions have been quickly detected and removed from the mainstream webpages for years, AHP kept a low profile for the most part of 2018. In effect, it benefited from its relative anonymity and for months operated a network of pro-IS distribution channels throughout Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 environments. This ceased to be the case in 2019, when most of them were incapacitated (banned) by law enforcement or abandoned. It is clear that the attention given to proliferating propaganda through the surface web decreased at this time, probably in favor of the Telegram communication software, as the discovered statistics suggest. The only active (still updated) locations—partially related to Ahlut-Tawhid Publications—belonged to the Bengali Ansar network. It has to be stressed, however, that AHP failed to spark increased attention of Internet users.
Tackling Insurgent Ideologies 2.0: Rapporteurs' Report
2020 Observer Research Foundation Report
As the global political barometer increasingly shifts towards insularity, protectionism and propaganda-driven populism across countries, the CVE community is faced with a varied set of challenges. Whether it is on the question of dealing with returning ISIS FTFs, and preventing their move to different geographical theatres; or combatting majoritarian groups that rally around grievances, race or religion and fuel extreme violence—we need to ask ourselves how much more vulnerable we are today, and identify where the fault lines lie. While addressing these challenges, it is equally necessary to ensure that the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms are balanced as governments address security priorities. It is with the desire to see more global conversation on the manifold ideologies that drive violence and the responsibility of governments, platforms and civil society engaged in CVE initiatives that the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) organised the second iteration of Tackling Insurgent Ideologies, with the theme “Implementing the Christchurch Call: Towards a Global CVE Agenda.” We brought together a diverse group of policymakers, researchers and practitioners involved in the process of developing strategies that deal with the proliferation of radicalism and violence to debate and discuss best practices, learnings and a way forward.
Framing war: visual propaganda, the Islamic State, and the battle for east Mosul
2020 Winter, C. Article
This article explores how propaganda can be used to construct counter-factual visual narratives at times of war. Specifically, it examines how the Islamic State communicated its way through the 100-day-long battle for east Mosul, which was launched by the coalition and its allies in October 2016. Drawing on Jacques Ellul’s 1962 theory of propaganda, it uses qualitative content analysis to decipher the 1,261 media products published online by the group during the first phase of its defence of the city. The author contends that, even though it was resoundingly defeated there by January, the global legacy of this battle, which was used as a testing ground for a series of potent innovations in insurgent strategic communication, will endure long into the future.
Togetherness after terror: The more or less digital commemorative public atmospheres of the Manchester Arena bombing’s first anniversary
2020 Merrill, S., Sumartojo, S., Closs Stephens, A. and Coward, M. Article
This article examines the forms and feelings of togetherness evident in both Manchester city centre and on social media during the first anniversary of the 22 May 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. To do this, we introduce a conceptual framework that conceives commemorative public atmospheres as composed of a combination of ‘more or less digital’ elements. We also present a methodological approach that combines the computational collection and analysis of Twitter content with short-term team autoethnography. First, the article addresses the concept of public atmospheres before introducing the case study and outlining our methodology. We then analyse the shifting moods of togetherness created by the official programme of commemorative events known as Manchester Together and their digital mediatisation through Twitter. We then explore a grassroots initiative, #LoveMCRBees, and how it relied on the materialisation of social media logics to connect people. Overall, we demonstrate how public atmospheres, as constituted in more and less digital ways, provide a framework for conceptualising commemorative events, and how togetherness is reworked by social media, especially in the context of responses to terrorism.
Understanding the Incel Community on YouTube
2020 Papadamou, K., Zannettou, S., Blackburn, J., De Cristofaro, E., Stringhini, G. and Sirivianos, M. Article
YouTube is by far the largest host of user-generated video content worldwide. Alas, the platform also hosts inappropriate, toxic, and/or hateful content. One community that has come into the spotlight for sharing and publishing hateful content are the so-called Involuntary Celibates (Incels), a loosely defined movement ostensibly focusing on men's issues, who have often been linked to misogynistic views. In this paper, we set out to analyze the Incel community on YouTube. We collect videos shared on Incel-related communities within Reddit, and perform a data-driven characterization of the content posted on YouTube along several axes. Among other things, we find that the Incel community on YouTube is growing rapidly, that they post a substantial number of negative comments, and that they discuss a broad range of topics ranging from ideology, e.g., around the Men Going Their Own Way movement, to discussions filled with racism and/or misogyny. Finally, we quantify the probability that a user will encounter an Incel-related video by virtue of YouTube's recommendation algorithm. Within five hops when starting from a non-Incel-related video, this probability is 1 in 5, which is alarmingly high given the toxicity of said content.
Raiders of the Lost Kek: 3.5 Years of Augmented 4chan Posts from the Politically Incorrect Board
2020 Papasavva, A., Zannettou, S., De Cristofaro, E., Stringhini, G. and Blackburn, J. Article
This paper presents a dataset with over 3.3M threads and 134.5M posts from the Politically Incorrect board (/pol/) of the imageboard forum 4chan, posted over a period of almost 3.5 years (June 2016-November 2019). To the best of our knowledge, this represents the largest publicly available 4chan dataset, providing the community with an archive of posts that have been permanently deleted from 4chan and are otherwise inaccessible. We augment the data with a few set of additional labels, including toxicity scores and the named entities mentioned in each post. We also present a statistical analysis of the dataset, providing an overview of what researchers interested in using it can expect, as well as a simple content analysis, shedding light on the most prominent discussion topics, the most popular entities mentioned, and the level of toxicity in each post. Overall, we are confident that our work will further motivate and assist researchers in studying and understanding 4chan as well as its role on the greater Web. For instance, we hope this dataset may be used for cross-platform studies of social media, as well as being useful for other types of research like natural language processing. Finally, our dataset can assist qualitative work focusing on in-depth case studies of specific narratives, events, or social theories.
Echo Chambers Exist! (But They're Full of Opposing Views)
2020 Bright, J., Marchal, N., Ganesh, B. and Rudinac, S. Article
The theory of echo chambers, which suggests that online political discussions take place in conditions of ideological homogeneity, has recently gained popularity as an explanation for patterns of political polarization and radicalization observed in many democratic countries. However, while micro-level experimental work has shown evidence that individuals may gravitate towards information that supports their beliefs, recent macro-level studies have cast doubt on whether this tendency generates echo chambers in practice, instead suggesting that cross-cutting exposures are a common feature of digital life. In this article, we offer an explanation for these diverging results. Building on cognitive dissonance theory, and making use of observational trace data taken from an online white nationalist website, we explore how individuals in an ideological 'echo chamber' engage with opposing viewpoints. We show that this type of exposure, far from being detrimental to radical online discussions, is actually a core feature of such spaces that encourages people to stay engaged. The most common 'echoes' in this echo chamber are in fact the sound of opposing viewpoints being undermined and marginalized. Hence echo chambers exist not only in spite of but thanks to the unifying presence of oppositional viewpoints. We conclude with reflections on policy implications of our study for those seeking to promote a more moderate political internet.
Weaponizing white thymos: flows of rage in the online audiences of the alt-right
2020 Ganesh, B. Article
The alt-right is a growing radical right-wing network that is particularly effective at mobilizing emotion through digital communications. Introducing ‘white thymos’ as a framework to theorize the role of rage, anger, and indignation in alt-right communications, this study argues that emotive communication connects alt-right users and mobilizes white thymos to the benefit of populist radical right politics. By combining linguistic, computational, and interpretive techniques on data collected from Twitter, this study demonstrates that the alt-right weaponizes white thymos in three ways: visual documentation of white victimization, processes of legitimization of racialized pride, and reinforcement of the rectitude of rage and indignation. The weaponization of white thymos is then shown to be central to the culture of the alt-right and its connectivity with populist radical right politics.
An Approach for Radicalization Detection Based on Emotion Signals and Semantic Similarity
2020 Araque, O. and Iglesias, C.A. Article
The Internet has become an important tool for modern terrorist groups as a means of spreading their propaganda messages and recruitment purposes. Previous studies have shown that the analysis of social signs can help in the analysis, detection, and prediction of radical users. In this work, we focus on the analysis of affect signs in social media and social networks, which has not been yet previously addressed. The article contributions are: (i) a novel dataset to be used in radicalization detection works, (ii) a method for utilizing an emotion lexicon for radicalization detection, and (iii) an application to the radical detection domain of an embedding-based semantic similarity model. Results show that emotion can be a reliable indicator of radicalization, as well as that the proposed feature extraction methods can yield high-performance scores.
Interactive Search and Exploration in Discussion Forums Using Multimodal Embeddings
2020 Gornishka, I., Rudinac, S. and Worring, M. Article
In this paper we present a novel interactive multimodal learning system, which facilitates search and exploration in large networks of social multimedia users. It allows the analyst to identify and select users of interest, and to find similar users in an interactive learning setting. Our approach is based on novel multimodal representations of users, words and concepts, which we simultaneously learn by deploying a general-purpose neural embedding model. The usefulness of the approach is evaluated using artificial actors, which simulate user behavior in a relevance feedback scenario. Multiple experiments were conducted in order to evaluate the quality of our multimodal representations and compare different embedding strategies. We demonstrate the capabilities of the proposed approach on a multimedia collection originating from the violent online extremism forum Stormfront, which is particularly interesting due to the high semantic level of the discussions it features.
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