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
Countering Violent Extremism Online: The Experiences of Informal Counter Messaging Actors
2019 Lee, B. Article
The online space is a haven for extremists of all kinds. Although efforts to remove violent and extremist content are increasing, there is a widely accepted need to also contest extremist messages with counter messages designed to undermine and disrupt extremist narratives. While the majority of academic focus has been on large and well‐funded efforts linked to governments, this article considers the experiences of informal actors who are active in contesting extremist messaging but who lack the support of large institutions. Informal actors come without some of the baggage that accompanies formal counter-message campaigns, which have been attacked as lacking in credibility and constituting “just more government propaganda.” This has been noted by some of the wider countering violent extremism industry and the appetite for incorporating “real‐world” content in their campaigns seems to be rising. This article fills a gap in our knowledge of the experiences of informal counter-messaging actors. Through a series of in‐depth qualitative interviews it demonstrates that, despite the potentially serious risks of incorporating greater levels of informal content, there is an appetite among informal actors to engage with formal campaigns where they can be selective over who they work with and maintain a degree of control.
A comparison of ISIS foreign fighters and supporters social media posts: an exploratory mixed-method content analysis
2019 Dillon, L., Neo, L. S. and Freilich, J. D. Article
This paper compares the social media posts of ISIS foreign fighters to those of ISIS supporters. We examine a random sample of social media posts made by violent foreign fighters (n = 14; 2000 posts) and non-violent supporters (n = 18; 2000 posts) of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (overall n = 4,000 posts), from 2009 to 2015. We used a mixed-method study design. Our qualitative content analyses of the 4,000 posts identified five themes: Threats to in-group, societal grievances, pursuit for significance, religion, and commitment issues. Our quantitative comparisons found that the dominant themes in the foreign fighters’ online content were threats to in-group, societal grievances, and pursuit for significance, while religion and commitment issues were dominant themes in the supporters’ online content. We also identified thematic variations reflecting individual attitudes that emerged during the 2011–2015 period, when major geopolitical developments occurred in Syria and Iraq. Finally, our quantitative sentiment-based analysis found that the supporters (10 out of 18; 56%) posted more radical content than the foreign fighters (5 out of 14; 36%) on social media.
How Extreme Is The European Far Right? Investigating Overlaps in the German Far-Right Scene on Twitter
2019 Ahmed, R. and Pisoiu, D. VOX-Pol Publication
The aim of the report is to determine the overlaps apparent in the far-right scene on Twitter, and specifically, to ascertain the extent to which different groups on the scene are indeed talking about the same issues in the same way, in spite of apparent differences in tone and underlying ideologies. The authors utilise a mixed-methods approach: first, gaining a cursory insight into the extreme right-wing scene on Twitter across Europe; and then applying a detailed frame analysis to three selected groups in Germany to determine the implicit and explicit overlaps between them, thus complementing the quantitative findings to offer an in-depth analysis of meaning.
Combating Violent Extremism Voices Of Former Right Wing Extremists
2019 Scrivens, R., Venkatesh, V., Bérubé, M. and Gaudette, T. Article
While it has become increasingly common for researchers, practitioners and policymakers to draw from the insights of former extremists to combat violent extremism, overlooked in this evolving space has been an in-depth look at how formers perceive such efforts. To address this gap, interviews were conducted with 10 Canadian former right-wing extremists based on a series of questions provided by 30 Canadian law enforcement officials and 10 community activists. Overall, formers suggest that combating violent extremism requires a multidimensional response, largely consisting of support from parents and families, teachers and educators, law enforcement officials, and other credible formers.
ISIS Propaganda: A Full-Spectrum Extremist Message
2019 Baele, S. J., Boyd, K. A. and Coan, T. G. Book
This book offers a comprehensive overview and analysis of the Islamic State's use of propaganda. Combining a range of different theoretical perspectives from across the social sciences, and using rigorous methods, the authors trace the origins of the Islamic State's message, laying bare the strategic logic guiding its evolution, examining each of its multi-media components, and showing how these elements work together to radicalize audiences' worldviews. This volume highlights the challenges that this sort of "full-spectrum propaganda" raises for counter terrorism forces. It is not only a one-stop resource for any analyst of IS and Salafi-jihadism, but also a rich contribution to the study of text and visual propaganda, radicalization and political violence, and international security.
‘The Baghdadi Net’: How A Network of ISIL-Supporting Accounts Spread Across Twitter
2019 Ayad, M. Article
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL) supporters fanned out large amounts of Arabic content across Twitter all through the week in the wake of the news surrounding the death of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Many accounts were exhibiting strong and multiple signals of automated behavior1, spawning every hour, on the hour, and Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) researchers monitored and tracked these accounts, and their tactics for the past week following the news. Twitter, and accounts specifically designed to report ISIL activity, were limiting some of the effects of what researchers were calling the ‘Baghdadi Net.’ However, it was clear the accounts were able to generate again, sometimes seconds within a takedown period, and spread video, and audio, as well as new ISIL-news content. Many accounts used western avatars, linked to real people, as well as hashtags that were trending across the Middle East and North Africa, including those being used in the Iraq and Lebanon protests. Latching on to trending topics is a well-documented tactic by ISIL and other groups to increase impressions and overall reach of content. As of Friday, the accounts were tweeting out audio content produced by al Furqan media heralding the ascension of the new ISIL leader Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurashi.
Prevalent Sentiments of the Concept of Jihad in the Public Commentsphere
2019 Silverman, G. and Sommer, U. Article
Certain studies of social conflicts and geopolitical processes through online social networks entail qualitative analysis. One such issue is the tension between Western and Muslim societies. We introduce computer-assisted qualitative sentiment analysis for the inquiry and extraction of varied sentiments. The analysis explores the prevalent meanings of the term jihad through discussions of Muslims and non-Muslims in the online public sphere. After examining 4,630 Facebook comments and replies, our examination leads to a holistic mapping that details “peaceful,” “moderate,” and “radical” opinions regarding jihad, which is an integral institution of the Muslim world. Through this method, we suggest a “Muslim–non-Muslim tension indicator,” which can be used in a range of political analyses.
“You Know What to Do”: Proactive Detection of YouTube Videos Targeted by Coordinated Hate Aacks
2019 Mariconti, E., Suarez-Tangil, G., Blackburn, J., de Cristofaro, E., Kourtellis, N., Leontiadis, I., Serrano, J.L. and Stringhini, G. Article
Video sharing platforms like YouTube are increasingly targeted by aggression and hate attacks. Prior work has shown how these attacks often take place as a result of "raids," i.e., organized efforts by ad-hoc mobs coordinating from third-party communities. Despite the increasing relevance of this phenomenon, however, online services often lack effective countermeasures to mitigate it. Unlike well-studied problems like spam and phishing, coordinated aggressive behavior both targets and is perpetrated by humans, making defense mechanisms that look for automated activity unsuitable. Therefore, the de-facto solution is to reactively rely on user reports and human moderation. In this paper, we propose an automated solution to identify YouTube videos that are likely to be targeted by coordinated harassers from fringe communities like 4chan. First, we characterize and model YouTube videos along several axes (metadata, audio transcripts, thumbnails) based on a ground truth dataset of videos that were targeted by raids. Then, we use an ensemble of classifiers to determine the likelihood that a video will be raided with very good results (AUC up to 94%). Overall, our work provides an important first step towards deploying proactive systems to detect and mitigate coordinated hate attacks on platforms like YouTube.
Right-Wing Extremists’ Persistent Online Presence: History and Contemporary Trends
2019 Conway, M., Scrivens, R. and Macnair, L. VOX-Pol Publication
This policy brief traces how Western right-wing extremists have exploited the power of the internet from early dial-up bulletin board systems to contemporary social media and messaging apps. It demonstrates how the extreme right has been quick to adopt a variety of emerging online tools, not only to connect with the like-minded, but to radicalise some audiences while intimidating others, and ultimately to recruit new members, some of whom have engaged in hate crimes and/or terrorism. Highlighted throughout is the fast pace of change of both the internet and its associated platforms and technologies, on the one hand, and the extreme right, on the other, as well as how these have interacted and evolved over time. Underlined too is the persistence, despite these changes, of rightwing extremists’ online presence, which poses challenges for effectively responding to this activity moving forward.
Predicting Behavioural Patterns in Discussion Forums using Deep Learning on Hypergraphs
2019 Arya, D., Rudinac, S. and Worring, M. VOX-Pol Publication
Online discussion forums provide open workspace allowing users to share information, exchange ideas, address problems, and form groups. These forums feature multimodal posts and analyzing them requires a framework that can integrate heterogeneous information extracted from the posts, i.e. text, visual content and the information about user interactions with the online platform and each other. In this paper, we develop a generic framework that can be trained to identify communication behavior and patterns in relation to an entity of interest, be it user, image or text in internet forums. As the case study we use the analysis of violent online political extremism content, which has been a major challenge for domain experts. We demonstrate the generalizability and flexibility of our framework in predicting relational information between multimodal entities by conducting extensive experimentation around four practical use cases.
Quarantining Online Hate Speech: Technical and Ethical Perspectives
2020 Ullmann, S. and Tomalin, M. Article
In this paper we explore quarantining as a more ethical method for delimiting the spread of Hate Speech via online social media platforms. Currently, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google generally respond reactively to such material: offensive messages that have already been posted are reviewed by human moderators if complaints from users are received. The offensive posts are only subsequently removed if the complaints are upheld; therefore, they still cause the recipients psychological harm. In addition, this approach has frequently been criticised for delimiting freedom of expression, since it requires the service providers to elaborate and implement censorship regimes. In the last few years, an emerging generation of automatic Hate Speech detection systems has started to offer new strategies for dealing with this particular kind of offensive online material. Anticipating the future efficacy of such systems, the present article advocates an approach to online Hate Speech detection that is analogous to the quarantining of malicious computer software. If a given post is automatically classified as being harmful in a reliable manner, then it can be temporarily quarantined, and the direct recipients can receive an alert, which protects them from the harmful content in the first instance. The quarantining framework is an example of more ethical online safety technology that can be extended to the handling of Hate Speech. Crucially, it provides flexible options for obtaining a more justifiable balance between freedom of expression and appropriate censorship.
Hezbollah’s “Virtual Entrepreneurs” - How Hezbollah Is Using The Internet To Incite Violence In Israel
2019 Shkolnik, M. and Corbeil, A. Article
In recent years, Hezbollah has used social media to recruit Israeli Arabs and West Bank-based Palestinians to attack Israeli targets. A recent innovation in terrorist tactics has given rise to “virtual entrepreneurs,” which to date have been largely associated with the Islamic State’s online recruitment efforts. Hezbollah’s virtual planners, similar to those in the Islamic State, use social media to establish contact with potential recruits before transitioning to more encrypted communications platforms, transferring funds, and issuing instructions to form cells, conduct surveillance, and carry out terrorist attacks. Online recruitment presents a low-cost option that offers plausible deniability for Hezbollah. While every virtual plot led by Hezbollah that targeted Israel has been foiled thus far, Israeli authorities spend time and resources disrupting these schemes at the expense of other more pressing threats. By digitally recruiting Palestinians to attack Israel, Hezbollah and its patron Iran are seeking to cultivate a new front against Israel amid rising regional hostilities.
What Do Closed Source Data Tell Us About Lone Actor Terrorist Behavior? A Research Note
2019 Gill, P., Corner, E., McKeeb, A., Hitchen, P. and Betley, P. Article
This article contributes to the growing body of knowledge on loneactor terrorism with the incorporation of closed-source data. The analyses presented investigate the antecedent behaviors of U.K.- based lone-actor terrorists leading up to their planning or conducting a terrorist event. The results suggest that prior to their attack or arrest the vast majority of lone-actor terrorists each demonstrated elements concerning (a) their grievance, (b) an escalation in their intent to act, (c) gaining capability—both psychologically and technically and (d) attack planning. The results also disaggregate our understanding of lone-actor terrorists in two ways. First, we compare the behaviors of the jihadist actors to those of the extreme-right. Second, we visualize Borum’s (2012) continuums of loneness, direction, and motivation. Collectively the results provide insight into the threat assessment and management of potential lone actors
Online news media and propaganda influence on radicalized individuals: Finding from interviews with Islamist prisoners and former Islamists
2019 Neumann, K. and Baugut, P. Article
This study is the first to explore the twin influences of online propaganda and news media on Islamists. We conducted 44 in-depth interviews with cognitively and behaviorally radicalized Islamist prisoners in Austria as well as former Islamists in Germany and Austria. We found that online propaganda and news media had interdependent influences on Islamists’ rejections of non-Muslims and Western politics, as well as on their willingness to use violence and commit suicide. Cognitively radicalized individuals were influenced by propaganda that blamed non-Muslims for opposing Islam; this was reinforced by online mainstream news reports of right-wing populism and extremism that propagandists selectively distributed via social media. Among behaviorally radicalized individuals, exposure to propaganda and news reports depicting Muslim war victims contributed to the radicalized individuals’ willingness to use violence. Moreover, propaganda and media reports that extensively personalized perpetrators of violence strengthened radicalized individuals’ motivations to imitate the use of violence.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression
2019 United Nations Report
The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the General Assembly the report prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 34/18. In this report, the Special Rapporteur evaluates the human rights law that applies to the regulation of online ‘hate speech’.
Islamic State Propaganda and Attacks: How Are They Connected?
2019 Rosenblatt, N., Winter, C. and Basra, R. Article
What is the relationship between the words and deeds of a terrorist group? Despite frequent speculation in media and policy circles, few studies have tested this relationship. This study aims to verify a potential correlation between the volume of propaganda produced by Islamic State (IS)—including statements by the group’s leadership—and the number of attacks carried out in its name. We examine this issue by comparing two datasets: one of all official propaganda produced by the Islamic State in 2016, and another of the completed, failed, and disrupted plots carried out by the group and its supporters in Europe in the same year. We find no strong and predictable correlation between the volume of propaganda Islamic State produces and the number of attacks the group and its supporters carry out. There is no regular rise in IS propaganda output before or after its attacks. In particular, there is no regular rise in attacks after leadership statements. However, the results may have identified differences in how IS central and regional media offices respond to attacks. The findings suggest that rather than merely looking at the volume of IS propaganda, it is necessary to also examine its content. As such, the deliberately broad premise of this study is intended as the first in a series of papers examining the potential relationship between IS propaganda and IS attacks.
A Philosophical and Historical Analysis of “Generation Identity”: Fascism, Online Media, and the European New Right
2019 Richards, I. Article
This article analyzes ideological and organizational characteristics of the pan-European youth movement, “Generation Identity” (GI), through a philosophical and historical lens. With a synoptic perspective on existing and original research, it outlines an analysis of key GI literature as well as its ideological influences, activist behavior, and media strategies. This research reveals that, like other twentieth and twenty-first century examples of neo-fascism, the movement is syncretic and attempts to legitimize its political aims through reference to historical quasi- and proto-fascist cases, in combination with popular left and right-wing political ideals. A reflection on GI’s activist behavior, on the other hand, demonstrates that the movement is relatively unique in the field of current far-right politics; particularly in the extent to which it draws practical inspiration from the tactics and propagandizing strategies of contemporary left-wing movements. GI’s online presence, including its leaders’ promotion of gamification, also illustrates its distinctive appeal to young, relatively affluent, countercultural and digitally literate populations. Finally, while in many respects GI is characteristic of the “European New Right” (ENR), the analysis finds that its spokespersons’ various promotion of capitalism and commodification, including through their advocacy of international trade and sale of merchandise, diverges from the anti-capitalist philosophizing of contemporary ENR thinkers.
Personal Statement from James Watkins to Committee on Homeland Security 8chan Inquiry
2019 Watkins, J. Statement
Chairman Thompson and Members of the Committee: Today, James Watkins appears for a congressional deposition addressing your Committee’s concern over social media companies’ efforts to address online extremist content. We have prepared this statement in an effort to assist the Committee in understanding how careful and responsible a platform 8chan is. While Mr. Watkins is empathetic to the victims of mass shootings in America, 8chan has never tolerated illegal speech and has a consistent track record of working with law enforcement agencies when appropriate. After the current disruption of service, 8chan has taken steps to improve its ability to identify illegal content and to act more quickly in doing so. To these ends, it hopes to be of continued assistance to law enforcement officers in times of need. Mindful of tragedies America has faced, Mr. Watkins also believes in the exceptional promise of the First Amendment. 8chan is the only platform featuring a full commitment to free speech—a one-of-a-kind discussion board where anonymous users shared tactics about French democracy protests, how to circumvent censorship in repressive countries, and the best way to beat a classic video game. In this hodgepodge of chaotic discussion, down-home recipes are traded, sorrows lifted, and a small minority of users post hateful and ignorant items. As Justice Hugo Black once noted, the “First Amendment provides the only kind of security system that can preserve a free government – one that leaves the way wide open for people to favor, discuss, advocate, or incite causes and doctrines however obnoxious and antagonistic such views may be to the rest of us.” It is with this in mind that Mr. Watkins is proud to host the only platform compatible with the First Amendment.
Elites and foreign actors among the alt-right: The Gab social media platform
2019 Zhou, Y., Dredze, M., Broniatowski, D. A. and Adler, W. D. Article
Content regulation and censorship of social media platforms is increasingly discussed by governments and the platforms themselves. To date, there has been little data-driven analysis of the effects of regulated content deemed inappropriate on online user behavior. We therefore compared Twitter — a popular social media platform that occasionally removes content in violation of its Terms of Service — to Gab — a platform that markets itself as completely unregulated. Launched in mid 2016, Gab is, in practice, dominated by individuals who associate with the “alt right” political movement in the United States. Despite its billing as “The Free Speech Social Network,” Gab users display more extreme social hierarchy and elitism when compared to Twitter. Although the framing of the site welcomes all people, Gab users’ content is more homogeneous, preferentially sharing material from sites traditionally associated with the extremes of American political discourse, especially the far right. Furthermore, many of these sites are associated with state-sponsored propaganda from foreign governments. Finally, we discovered a significant presence of German language posts on Gab, with several topics focusing on German domestic politics, yet sharing significant amounts of content from U.S. and Russian sources. These results indicate possible emergent linkages between domestic politics in European and American far right political movements. Implications for regulation of social media platforms are discussed.
The Internet Police
2019 Breinholt, J. Report
This paper, part of the Legal Perspectives on Tech Series, was commissioned in conjunction with the Congressional Counterterrorism Caucus.