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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Tweeting the Jihad: Social Media Networks of Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq
|Social media have played an essential role in the jihadists’ operational strategy in Syria
and Iraq, and beyond. Twitter in particular has been used to drive communications over
other social media platforms. Twitter streams from the insurgency may give the illusion
of authenticity, as a spontaneous activity of a generation accustomed to using their
cell phones for self-publication, but to what extent is access and content controlled?
Over a period of three months, from January through March 2014, information was
collected from the Twitter accounts of 59 Western-origin fighters known to be in Syria.
Using a snowball method, the 59 starter accounts were used to collect data about the
most popular accounts in the network-at-large. Social network analysis on the data
collated about Twitter users in the Western Syria-based fighters points to the controlling
role played by feeder accounts belonging to terrorist organizations in the insurgency
zone, and by Europe-based organizational accounts associated with the banned British
organization, Al Muhajiroun, and in particular the London-based preacher, Anjem
Terrorist Financing and the Internet
|While al Qaeda has used the Internet primarily to spread its propaganda and to rally new recruits, the terrorist group has also relied on the Internet for financing-related purposes. Other Islamist terrorist groups, including Hamas, Lashkar e-Taiba, and Hizballah have also made extensive use of the Internet to raise and transfer needed funds to support their activities. The Internet's appeal in this regard for terrorist groups is readily apparent–offering a broad reach, timely efficiency, as well as a certain degree of anonymity and security for both donors and recipients. Unfortunately, while many governments now recognize that the Internet is an increasingly valuable tool for terrorist organizations, the response to this point has been inconsistent. For the U.S. and its allies to effectively counter this dangerous trend, they will have to prioritize their efforts in this area in the years to come.|
Social Media, Recruitment, Allegiance and the Islamic State
|2015||Gates, S. and Podder, S.||Journal|
|Islamic State relies heavily on the recruitment of foreign fighters. We examine this recruitment from an
organizational perspective. We analyze how the process of recruitment of foreigners shapes the adverse selection
problem affecting the dissident groups that they join. We also examine the different mechanisms used to
maintain the allegiance and compliance of foreigners as opposed to indigenous recruits. More broadly, we
analyze how the recruitment of foreign fighters affects the organization. Foreign fighters and local recruits exhibit
significant differences in recruitment patterns and motivations for joining IS. This could create problems for the
organization. Evidence of such strife, however, is not discernible. Given the information at hand, IS appears to be
effectively managing the mix of foreign and local recruits.
Preliminary Analytical Considerations In Designing A Terrorism And Extremism Online Network Extractor
|2014||Bouchard, M., Joffres, K. and Frank, R.||Article|
|It is now widely understood that extremists use the Internet in attempts to accomplish many of their objectives. In this chapter we present a web-crawler called the Terrorism and Extremism Network Extractor (TENE), designed to gather information about extremist activities on the Internet. In particular, this chapter will focus on how TENE may help differentiate terrorist websites from anti-terrorist websites by analyzing the context around the use of predetermined keywords found within the text of the webpage. We illustrate our strategy through a content analysis of four types of web-sites. One is a popular white supremacist website, another is a jihadist website, the third one is a terrorism-related news website, and the last one is an official counterterrorist website. To explore differences between these websites, the presence of, and context around 33 keywords was examined on both websites. It was found that certain words appear more often on one type of website than the other, and this may potentially serve as a good method for differentiating between terrorist websites and ones that simply refer to terrorist activities. For example, words such as “terrorist,” “security,” “mission,” “intelligence,” and “report,” all appeared with much greater frequency on the counterterrorist website than the white supremacist or the jihadist websites. In addition, the white supremacist and the jihadist websites used words such as “destroy,” “kill,” and “attack” in a specific context: not to describe their activities or their members, but to portray themselves as victims. The future developments of TENE are discussed.|
Analyzing the Targets of Hate in Online Social Media
|2016||Silva, L., Mondal, M., Correa, D., Benevenuto, F. and Weber, I.||Article|
|Social media systems allow Internet users a congenial platform to freely express their thoughts and opinions. Although this property represents incredible and unique communication opportunities, it also brings along important challenges. Online hate speech is an archetypal example of such challenges. Despite its magnitude and scale, there is a significant gap in understanding the nature of hate speech on social media. In this paper, we provide the first of a kind systematic large scale measurement study of the main targets of hate speech in online social media. To do that, we gather traces from two social media systems: Whisper and Twitter. We then develop and validate a methodology to identify hate speech on both these systems. Our results identify online hate speech forms and offer a broader understanding of the phenomenon, providing directions for prevention and detection approaches.|
Islamic State Propaganda and the Mainstream Media
|In this Lowy Institute Analysis, Lauren Williams examines Islamic State’s use of the Western media to disseminate its propaganda. Williams argues mainstream media outlets have a responsibility to treat Islamic State-produced material more critically, expose the weaknesses of its messages, and place greater effort into counter-messaging.
Islamic State’s media arm has a clearly defined strategy to manipulate the mainstream media to serve its propaganda objectives.
A more critical view of Islamic State’s claims and propaganda is needed to limit the effectiveness of the group’s messages.
The role of the media, as well as the stories of returnees and defectors, as a platform for counter-messaging has been underutilised.
Countering violent extremism through media and communication strategies - A Review of the Evidence
|This report presents the analysis of a corpus of academic and grey literature relevant to a key
challenge facing our society. How can media and communications be used to counter identity-based
violence (IBV) or Violent Extremism (VE)?
Part I focuses on “Counter-Narratives”, looking at the evidence relating to strategic policy
communication strategies and counter-propaganda techniques. This reflects literature from
policymakers, think-tanks, and civil society initiatives rather than the academic literature base.
Key findings include the following:
• Current literature and policy concerned with countering propaganda is dominated by the language
of ‘counter-narratives’ but a common understanding of this relatively new lexicon has yet to emerge.
• There is little hard evidence that proves interaction with VE content leads to participation in VE
• The hypothesis that VE narratives or the real life threat of VE can be countered by an alternative set
of communications is an assumption that remains unproven.
These findings challenge claims that responding to propaganda strategies by firing back
with “counter-narratives” can be effective.
Part II looks at “Alternative Approaches” to the use of the media to counter violent extremism,
drawing on insights from the “media development” and “media assistance” sectors, and research
into whether mass media and new communication interventions can inhibit identity-based violence
in certain crisis situations. Key findings include the following:
• The theoretical foundations for these alternative approaches are supported by a stronger and more
established research base, drawn from the multi-disciplinary fields of development, peace building,
and social cohesion.
• Media projects have less impact if seen to be linked to a political agenda.
• A growing evidence base suggests that radio and television drama addressing issues of identity,
reconciliation and tolerance have a positive an impact on public attitudes and behaviour.
• Media assistance can ensure that local and domestic media can respond appropriately to VE
• There is an emerging evidence base regarding the potential for rapid reaction media and
communication strategies in situations where there is a threat of IBV.
These findings suggest that alternative media strategies can help. But the trust and credibility of
information providers is crucial.
The final section “Reflections” concludes that the research landscape is fragmented and disconnected.
but suggests several professional/practitioner sectors and academic disciplines could shed light on
potentially effective media and communication CVE strategies.
More needs to be done to draw the threads together to learn lessons and to identify and prioritise
gaps in our knowledge and understanding.
Occasional Paper - The Islamic State’s Diminishing Returns on Twitter: How suspensions are limiting the social networks of English-speaking ISIS supporters
|2016||Berger, J.M. and Perez, H.||Report|
|Since late 2014, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) social networks on Twitter have been
subjected to periodic account suspensions. In a study of metrics for a network of English language
ISIS supporters active from June to October 2015, suspensions held the size and reach
of the overall network flat, while devastating the reach of specific users who have been
By analyzing a list of English-speaking ISIS adherents, we found:
• The number of readily discoverable English-speaking ISIS supporters on Twitter is
relatively small, usually fewer than 1,000 accounts.
• Extending the discovery process using advanced social network analysis produced a
network of fewer than 3,000 accounts at any given time.
• ISIS English-language social networks are extremely insular, meaning users mostly
follow and interact with each other.
• The number of users in the network who are based in Iraq and Syria appears to have
declined over time, partly because of suspension activity, but also because of operational
security concerns within ISIS and the deaths of some prominent Syria-based network
• The average number of Twitter followers any given ISIS supporter could expect was 300
to 400. Average follower counts were periodically reduced by aggressive waves of
suspensions. However, under typical conditions the average remained flat, as seen over a
30-day period beginning in late August, during which relatively few suspensions took
• Over time, individual users who repeatedly created new accounts after being suspended
suffered devastating reductions in their follower counts.
• Network and individual declines persisted even when suspension pressure eased,
suggesting that suspensions diminish activity in ways that extend beyond the simple
removal of accounts.
• The amount of pro-ISIS content available on Twitter was also limited by suspensions,
since all of a user’s tweets are typically deleted when his or her account is suspended.
• ISIS supporters have deployed several countermeasures in an effort to offset the negative
effects of suspensions.
• Countermeasures include the use of applications and simple hacking techniques to
quickly create new accounts for users who have been suspended, as well as elaborate
tactics to rebuild follower networks. Some of these approaches are sophisticated, but they
have had only limited benefits.
• ISIS supporters have also explored the use of other social media platforms as a
supplement to Twitter, but they feel that a robust presence on Twitter and Facebook is
integral to their recruitment and propaganda efforts, and continue returning to those
platforms despite challenges.
Our analysis was based on a list of accounts maintained and promoted by ISIS supporters on
Twitter. The list was primarily billed as a resource for finding other ISIS supporters, but it
included some non-porter accounts, and the user who maintained the list did not follow all of
the listed accounts.
Tweeting Propaganda, Radicalization and Recruitment: Islamic State Supporters Multi-Sided Twitter Networks
|2015||Chatfield, A., Reddick, C. and Brajawidagda, U.||Article|
|Islamic State (IS) terrorist networks in Syria and Iraq pose threats to national security. IS' exploitation of social media and digital strategy plays a key role in its global dissemination of propaganda, radicalization, and recruitment. However, systematic research on Islamic terrorist communication via social media is limited. Our research investigates the question: How do IS members/supporters use Twitter for terrorism communication: propaganda, radicalization, and recruitment? Theoretically, we drew on microeconomic network theories to develop a theoretical framework for multi-sided Twitter networks in the global Islamic terrorist communication environment. Empirically, we collected 3,039 tweets posted by @shamiwitness who was identified in prior research as "an information disseminator" for the IS cause. Methodologically, we performed social network analysis, trend and content analyses of the tweet data. We find strong evidence for Shamiwitness-intermediated multi-sided Twitter networks of international mass media, regional Arabic mass media, IS fighters, and IS sympathizers, supporting the framework's utility.|
How Do Terrorist Organizations Use Information Technologies- Understanding Cyber Terrorism
|2016||Tombul, F. and Akdogan, H.||Report|
|Globalization with advanced information technologies has changed the life of the people in
the world. When something occurs in one part of the world, other part of the world can be
informed easily within seconds. Current information technologies such as internet, social
media, blogs and news channels have enabled the people to create virtual groups all over the
world and to disseminate the information easily.
Most of the states, governments, public and private institutions have been using the advantage
of the information technologies to serve their citizens and customers. Concurrently, criminals
are also using the advantage of information technologies while committing crime. In other
words, everything including crime and criminals has changed their structures to be compatible
with the advanced information technologies.
Recently, lots of terrorist organizations have erupted especially in the Middle East and their
networks are spreading out with the use of technology. Most of the terrorist organizations
have been using the technology for military training of their militants, preparation, and
recruitment processes. Especially the internet is almost a virtual training slot for terrorist
groups. Recent studies (Weimann, 2006; Rothenberger, 2012) have revealed that the internet
is served as the library for the terrorist groups to provide instruction manuals and videos on
technical and tactical areas such as making a bomb, taking hostages, and guerilla combat. As
it has an appropriate space for interaction activities, potential terrorists use the advantage of
interaction face of the internet to learn how to make a bomb and send instant messages to the
instructors teaching illegal issues.
Thus, security forces in the face of all these developments should take the necessary
precautions to fight against the terrorist organizations by standing one step ahead on the use of
technology. Standing one step ahead can only be achieved understanding the phenomena and
ceaselessly updating the knowledge. Otherwise, security forces will fail if they maintain the
use of old technique and tactic to fight against the terrorist groups in this technology epoch.
Based on this point of view, this study will focus on understanding the use of technology to
fight against the terrorism. Furthermore, this study will also investigate some of the terrorist
organizations using the technology actively to commit crime. This study will also attempt to
shed light to the fact that different technologies have been used against the humanity by
terrorist groups although most of the people are not aware of that reality.
Check the Web - Assessing the Ethics and Politics of Policing the Internet for Extremist Material
|2015||Brown, I. and Cowls, J.||VOX-Pol Publication|
|This report assesses the ethics and politics of policing online extremist material, using the normative framework of international human rights law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and
the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – whilst not conducting a legal analysis. It draws where appropriate upon interpretations by the UN Human Rights Committee, UN experts (such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and special mandate holders), and regional human rights bodies and courts (such as the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights). The report looks at definitions of ‘extremist material’; the types of monitoring and blocking being undertaken by government agencies and the private sector; and considers the roles of these key stakeholders, along with private individuals and civil society groups. It is based on a two-day workshop in January 2015 with thirty expert stakeholders from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, governments and parliaments, civil society, and universities. Short versions of ten papers were presented to stimulate discussion, following an open call for extended abstracts. These are available on the VOX-Pol website: https://www.voxpol.eu/.
The authors conducted seven follow-up semi-structured interviews with stakeholders from law enforcement, industry, government and civil society; and background policy analysis. The first author also co-organised a workshop on privacy and online policing with the UK’s National Crime Agency in March 2015, and participated in three further workshops where the topics of this report were addressed: two on law enforcement use of communications data, and a third at the United Nations on the relationship between encryption and freedom of expression. Both authors are grateful for the assistance of interviewees, co-organisers, and workshop participants.
The report is produced by the EU-funded VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, and takes particular account of the network’s development of semi-automated search for violent online extremist content and deployment of available tools for search and analytics, including text, video, sentiment, etc., currently employed in other domains for analysis of violent online extremist content. The network’s focus 6 CHECK THE WEB is on making these tools freely available for research purposes to academics, but may also extend to others professionally tasked in this area (such as activists and law enforcement agencies). It is also centrally concerned with the ethical aspects of deployment of such tools and technologies.
Implementation of Security Council resolution 2178 (2014) by States affected by foreign terrorist fighters
|2015||UN Security Council Commitee||Report|
|The present report is the second in a series of reports to be issued pursuant to
Security Council resolution 2178 (2014), which requires the Counter-Terrorism
Committee Executive Directorate to assess Member States’ capacity to stem the flow
of foreign terrorist fighters, identify good practices in that regard and facilitate the
delivery of related technical assistance to States in need. The first report adopted a
thematic approach to the foreign terrorist fighter threat, focusing on the
implementation efforts of 21 Member States. The second report adopts a regional
approach and analyses the efforts of 32 States in Central Asia, the Maghreb, East
Africa/Horn of Africa, Western Europe and Oceania/Americas.
Populism, extremism and media: Mapping an uncertain terrain
|2016||Alvares, C., Dahlgren, P.||Article|
|Aiming to critically review key research on populism, extremism and media, this article examines some definition aspects of populism as a concept, its relation to ‘the people’ and points to future directions for research in mainstream – and social media – the terrain where so much of the political is played out. An individualisation of civic cultures has emerged in tandem with the growth of mediated populism through the use of new technologies, with a tendency towards personalisation in the public domain. While the new technological affordances exemplified by Web 2.0 may have contributed to intensified forms of popular engagement, they have been less successful in promoting democratic values, as shown by the results of the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections. Thus, the question as to the type of publics that are ‘possible and desirable in present circumstances’ (Nolan, 2008: 747) remains valid, for publics can espouse anti-democratic values while nevertheless remaining ‘publics’. The fact that the link between the new media and right-wing extremism has been comparatively explored at greater length than that of a religious bend indicates the need to invest in the latter, especially due to home-bred Islamic terrorism increasingly seen as threatening the multiculturalism of various European societies. Several avenues for research are presented to this effect, with a final reflection on the challenge posed by new media to the concept of media populism, both in terms of the Net’s market logics and the specificity of its architecture.|
#FailedRevolutions: Using Twitter to study the antecedents of ISIS support
|2015||Magdy, W., Darwish, K. and Weber, I.||Article|
|Lately, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has managed to control large parts of Syria and Iraq. To better understand the roots of support for ISIS, we present a study using Twitter data. We collected a large number of Arabic tweets referring to ISIS and classified them as pro-ISIS or anti-ISIS. We then analyzed the historical timelines of both user groups and looked at their pre-ISIS period to gain insights into the antecedents of support. Also, we built a classifier to ‘predict’, in retrospect, who will support or oppose the group. We show that ISIS supporters largely differ from ISIS opposition in that the former referred a lot more to Arab Spring uprisings that failed than the latter.|
Tackling Extremism Online
|Jonathan Russell, Head of Policy at Quilliam, talks to Sky News #digitalview about how everyone, not just governments, can help challenge extremist propaganda.
#digitalview, Sky News (23/01/16)
Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity, and belonging in a globalised world. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy.
Jared Cohen, Director, Google Ideas; Advisor to the Executive Chairman, Alphabet Inc.
|Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is the first terrorist organization to use the internet efficiently to spread its ideology and recruit followers in the region and abroad: but it is not an anomaly. In fact it is reflective of what we can expect to come from terrorist groups in the future. But technology is just one part of the problem. What will terrorist organizations in seven years’ time look like? Chatham House hosted Jared Cohen and a panel of guest speakers in January 2016 to explore these questions.|
“Flexible” capital accumulation in Islamic State social media
|This article explores online social media produced by the neo-jihadist group “Islamic State” (IS) from a political-economic perspective. Using a framework developed by anthropologist David Harvey, it examines how IS social media operates within depoliticised neoliberal environments characterised by “flexible” regimes of capital accumulation. It explicates how IS acquires political-economic capital by evoking “spectacle”, “fashion” and a “commodification of cultural forms”. Drawing from Christian Fuchs’ informational theory, the article also considers the roles of agency and competition in accumulation processes where “knowledge and technology reinforce each other”. By revealing how IS both constitutes and is constituted by its flexible approach to social media, the article seeks to illuminate avenues for better understanding neo-jihadist ideations.|
Social media and counterterrorism strategy
|With the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the issue of domestic radicalisation has taken on renewed significance for Western democracies. In particular, attention has been drawn to the potency of ISIS engagement on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Several governments have emphasised the importance of online programs aimed at undermining ISIS recruitment, including the use of state-run accounts on a variety of social media platforms to respond directly to ISIS messaging. This article assesses the viability of online counter-radicalisation by examining the effectiveness of similar programs at the US State Department over the last decade. The article argues that governments attempting to counter online radicalisation of their domestic populations must take seriously the significant shortcomings of these State Department programs. The most relevant issue in this regard is the recurring problem of credibility, when the authenticity of government information is undercut by the realities of foreign policy practice, and existing perceptions of hypocrisy and duplicity are reinforced in target audiences.|
Going Dark: Terrorism on the Dark Web
|The terms Deep Web, Deep Net, Invisible Web, or Dark Web refer to the content on the World Wide Web that is not indexed by standard search engines. One can describe the Internet as composed of layers: the “upper” layer, or the Surface Web, can easily be accessed by regular searches. However, “deeper” layers, the content of the Deep Web, have not been indexed by traditional search engines such as Google. Michael K. Bergman who wrote the seminal paper on the Deep Web, compared searching the Internet to dragging a net across the surface of the ocean: a great deal may be caught in the net, but there is a wealth of information that is deeper and therefore missed. In fact, most of the Web's information is buried far down on sites, and standard search engines are unable to access it.|
You Too Can Be Awlaki
|2011||Brachman, J.M. and Levine, A.N.||Article|