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 email@example.com 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.
Manipulating And Hiding Terrorist Content On The Internet: Legal And Tradecraft Issues
|2008||Williams, J.F., Urgo, M. and Burns, T.||Article|
|The global war on terror (“GWOT”) is being fought on many levels. In addition to traditional terror and counterterror activity, both sides are engaged in a public relations and propaganda war, employing the media, willingly and unwillingly, to support their positions. Hovering over these war campaigns are information technologies, which include the Internet. This article provides an introduction to various online content concealing practices that have been employed by those seeking to conceal or limit access to information on the Internet, including terrorist organizations. Further, there is a discussion on tracking and monitoring of website visitors. After reviewing open source information and websites, this article examines techniques and technologies that are easily available to terrorist organizations -- foreign and domestic -- whose structure can be obtained through Internet websites. The article then turns to a discussion of the legal issues posed by active and passive website monitoring techniques.|
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.
Hatred Behind the Screens - A Report on the Rise of Online Hate Speech
|2019||Williams, M. and de Reya, M.||Report|
|— The reporting, recording and incidence of online hate speech has increased over the past two years.
— While the number of people personally targeted remains relatively low, large numbers of people are being exposed to online hate speech, potentially causing decreased life satisfaction. In particular, an increasingly large number of UK children (aged 12-15) report that they are exposed to hateful content online.
— Online hate speech tends to spike for 24-48 hours after key national or international events such as a terror attack, and then rapidly fall, although the baseline of online hate can remain elevated for several months. Where it reaches a certain level, online hate speech can translate into offline hate crime on the streets.
— Hate crime, including hate speech, is both hard to define and hard to prosecute. A patchwork of hate crime laws has developed over the last two decades, but there is concern the laws are not as effective as they could be, and may need to be streamlined and/or extended - for example to cover gender and age-related hate crime. The Law Commission is currently reviewing hate crime legislation, and has separately completed a preliminary review of the criminal law in relation to offensive
and abusive online communications, concluding there was "considerable scope for reform".
— According to a recent survey by Demos, the public appreciates the difficult trade-off between tackling hate crime and protecting freedom of speech, with 32% in favour of a safety first approach, 23% in favour of protecting civil liberties, and 42% not favouring either option.
Hate Crime and Bullying in the Age of Social Media
|2016||Williams, M. and Pearson, O.||Report|
|The All Wales Hate Crime Project (Williams & Tregidga 2013, 2014)
highlighted the emerging problem of cyberhate and cyber bulling via social media
through interviews with victims. Opportunities for online engagement have
increased exponentially over the past two decades. In 1999 only 10 per cent of UK
households had access to the Internet. The number had grown to 53 percent in
2005 and to 85 per cent in 2015 (ONS 2015). Estimates put global social media
membership at approximately 2.5 billion non-unique users, with Facebook, Google+
and Twitter accounting for over half of these (Sloan et al. 2015, 2015, Williams et al.
2016). Open and widely accessible social media technologies, such as Twitter and
Facebook, are increasingly being used by citizens on a global scale to publish online
content. The diffusion of information in these networks can manifest itself in a
number of ways, ranging from the positive, such as support of social resilience
through calls for assistance and advice (Morell et al. 2011), to the negative, through
the production and contagion of misinformation and antagonistic and prejudiced
commentary (Burnap et al. 2013, 2014, Williams et al. 2013).
Hate Crime and its commission online is now recognised as a priority by the
UK Government. The sending of menacing messages via the Internet is now
punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment (Malicious Communications Act 1998 as
amended by the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill 2015). The Welsh Government
continues to implement ‘Tackling Hate Crimes and Incidents: A Framework for
Action’ and the fast paced evolution of social media is providing significant
challenges for partners and agencies. Despite this recognition, practitioners can
remain in the dark about the nature, prevalence and resources available to tackle
cyberhate and bulling on social media.
This conference aimed to address this knowledge gap via a series of keynote
presentations from high-profile leaders in the field and via hands on workshops.
This report outlines conference attendee experiences in relation to the current barriers and potential solutions in the area of cyberhate and cyber bullying and puts
forward national recommendations.
Cyberhate on Social Media in the aftermath of Woolwich: A Case Study in Computational Criminology and Big Data
|2016||Williams, M.L. and Burnap, P.||Journal|
|This paper presents the first criminological analysis of an online social reaction to a crime event of national significance, in particular the detection and propagation of cyberhate on social media following a terrorist attack. We take the Woolwich, London terrorist attack in 2013 as our event of interest and draw on Cohen’s process of warning, impact, inventory and reaction to delineate a sequence of incidents that come to constitute a series of deviant responses following the attack. This paper adds to contemporary debates in criminology and the study of hate crime in three ways: (1) it provides the first analysis of the escalation, duration, diffusion and de-escalation of cyberhate in social media following a terrorist event; (2) it applies Cohen’s work on action, reaction and amplification and the role of the traditional media to the online context and (3) it introduces and provides a case study in ‘computational criminology’.|
Hate in the Machine: Anti-Black and Anti-Muslim Social Media Posts as Predictors of Offline Racially and Religiously Aggravated Crime
|2020||Williams, M.L., Burnap, P., Javed, A., Liu, H. and Ozalp, S.||Article|
|National governments now recognize online hate speech as a pernicious social problem. In the wake of political votes and terror attacks, hate incidents online and offline are known to peak in tandem. This article examines whether an association exists between both forms of hate, independent of ‘trigger’ events. Using Computational Criminology that draws on data science methods, we link police crime, census and Twitter data to establish a temporal and spatial association between online hate speech that targets race and religion, and offline racially and religiously aggravated crimes in London over an eight-month period. The findings renew our understanding of hate crime as a process, rather than as a discrete event, for the digital age.|
Fractured Narratives And Popup Diaspora
|The problem of terrorism is both an immediate threat and a long-term issue of safety
and social cohesion, locally and globally. An immediate threat requires relatively
straightforward interventions. Our public debates seem to be focusing too much on “fire-
fighting” crisis management, and congratulating ourselves on instant emotional displays
of solidarity, without paying enough attention to the substantial challenges of developing
a broader social consensus, and a culture of mutual respect. More specifically, we need to
find new ways to understand how local and global issues intersect, and why the global
hegemony of one or two superpowers no longer seems to deliver stability and security
(even for themselves). This is particularly true in a world where national borders have
less and less relevance for the homogeneity of populations, cultures or values, and where
whole communities, for instance, continue practices with impunity which are completely
unacceptable to others – as well as being illegal, e.g. female genital mutilation. This
paper explores some key theoretical issues which might help us to understand some of the
underlying longer-term issues: the articulation of identity, culture, and power, and impact
of micro-practices on global cohesion and security. The new globally connected social
media have a central role to play in this analysis.
The 60 Days of PVE Campaign: Lessons on Organizing an Online, Peer-to-Peer, Counter-radicalization Program
|2017||Wilner, A., and Rigato, B.||Article|
|Combatting violent extremism can involve organizing Peer-to-Peer (P2P)
preventing violent extremism (PVE) programs and social media campaigns. While
hundreds of PVE campaigns have been launched around the world in recent
months and years, very few of these campaigns have actually been reviewed,
analyzed, or assessed in any systematic way. Metrics of success and failure have
yet to be fully developed, and very little is publically known as to what might
differentiate a great and successful P2P campaign from a mediocre one. This
article will provide first-hand insight on orchestrating a publically funded,
university-based, online, peer-to-peer PVE campaign – 60 Days of PVE – based
on the experience of a group of Canadian graduate students. The article provides
an account of the group’s approach to PVE. It highlights the entirety of the
group’s campaign, from theory and conceptualization to branding, media strategy,
and evaluation, and describes the campaign’s core objectives and implementation.
The article also analyzes the campaign’s digital footprint and reach using data
gleamed from social media. Finally, the article discusses the challenges and
difficulties the group faced in running their campaign, lessons that are pertinent
for others contemplating a similar endeavour.
The Language of Radicalization: Female Internet Recruitment to Participation in ISIS Activities
|Why do young Muslim women radicalize and undertake high-risk political behaviors, and what factors influence their sociopolitical transformation? The process of radicalization happens because of individual, social, and political dynamics, and is facilitated by the availability of computer-mediated communication. Some young Muslim women keep detailed records of their radicalization process via social media, which we use to understand their sociopolitical transformation. By evaluating their language, we can better understand how their personal, social, and political development unfolds. This paper is a case study examining the words of one young Muslim woman, Aqsa Mahmood, who moved from her home in Scotland to join the ISIS fighters in Syria. Her Tumblr blog provides a linguistic, political, and ideological record of the process of her radicalization. We identify linguistic patterns in her blog posts that can help to develop and reveal a typology of the language of female radicalization.|
Validating extremism Strategic use of authority appeals in al-Naba’ infographics
|2018||Winkler C., el-Damanhoury, K., Lemieux, A.||Article|
|Daesh’s centralized media operations provide a steady stream of media products to citizens living in and around its controlled territories, with the result that several nations occupied or adjacent to the group have emerged as many of the most fruitful recruiting grounds for new members. To better understand the argumentation strategies targeting such audiences, this study examines the 119 infographics in the first 50 issues of Daesh’s official weekly Arabic newsletter, al-Naba’. The findings suggest that through a patterned application of statistical, historical, religious, and scientific arguments from authority to predictable topical areas, the infographics in al-Naba’ reinforce Daesh as a key source of information for the citizenry of the proclaimed caliphate.|
Images of Death and Dying in ISIS Media: A Comparison of English and Arabic Print Publications
|2018||Winkler, C., El-Damanhoury, K., Dicker, A., and Lemieux, A.F.||Article|
|Images of death and dying in the media around the globe have a symbiotic relationship with nation states as they can bolster state control by defining who has the right to take lives in the interests of the community, by identifying enemies of the state, by demonstrating dominance over enemies, and by lending a moral posture to the state’s war efforts. Previously, the growing corpus of research on media’s display of death and about to die images has focused almost exclusively on media outlets that bolster established states on the global stage. By analyzing 1965 death and about to die images displayed in Dabiq, ISIS’s English-language magazine, and al-Naba’, the same group’s Arabic-language newspaper, this study adds an understanding of the messaging strategies deployed by groups striving to challenge, rather than reinforce, existing national boundaries. The findings suggest that while ISIS adopts some standard media practices, it also utilizes unique and audience targeted approaches regarding the frequency of image use, the identify of the corpses, the display of dead bodies, and the presentation of those responsible for the pictured dead bodies in its media campaign.|
Intersections of ISIS media leader loss and media campaign strategy A visual framing analysis
|2019||Winkler, C., El-Damanhoury, K., Saleh, Z., Hendry, J. and El-Karhili, N.||Article|
|The decision to target leaders of groups like ISIS to hamper their effectiveness has served as a longstanding principle of counterterrorism efforts. Yet, previous research suggests that any results may simply be temporary. Using insights from confiscated ISIS documents from Afghanistan to define the media leader roles that qualified for each level of the cascade, CTC (Combating Terrorism Center) records to identify media leaders who died, and a content analysis of all ISIS images displayed in the group’s Arabic weekly newsletter to identify the group’s visual framing strategies, this study assesses whether and how leader loss helps explain changes in the level and nature of the group’s visual output over time. ISIS’s quantity of output and visual framing strategies displayed significant changes before, during, and after media leader losses. The level of the killed leader within the group’s organizational hierarchy also corresponded to different changes in ISIS’s media framing.|
Shifts in the Visual Media Campaigns of AQAP and ISIS After High Death and High Publicity Attacks
|2020||Winkler, C., McMinimy, K., El-Damanhoury, K. and Almahmoud, M.||Article|
|Extreme militant groups use their media campaigns to share information, recruit and radicalize followers, share worldviews, and seek public diplomacy ends. While previous research documents that various on-the-ground events correspond to changes in the groups’ messaging strategies, studies of how competing militant groups influence one another’s media campaigns are nascent. This study helps fill that gap by examining how successful attacks by one militant group correspond to changes in both the perpetrating and competing groups’ visual media messaging strategies. It examines attack success through the lens of violent acts that result in direct impact (measured through death counts) and indirect impact (measured through traditional media coverage levels). The study utilizes a content analysis of 1882 authority-related images in AQAP’s al-Masra newsletter and ISIS’s al-Naba’ newsletter appearing three issues before and after each attack, and a chi-square analysis comparing four ISIS attack conditions (high death/high media, high death/low media, low death/high media, and low death/low media). The findings show that a high number of resulting deaths, rather than a high level of media coverage, correspond to changes in the media campaigns of both the perpetrators and the competing groups, with key differences in visual content based on group identity.|
Online Hate: From the Far-Right to the ‘Alt-Right’ and from the Margins to the Mainstream
|In the 1990s and early 2000s, there was much discussion about the democratic and anti-democratic implications of the Internet. The latter particularly focused on the ways in which the far-right were using the Internet to spread hate and recruit members. Despite this common assumption, the American far-right did not harness the Internet quickly, effectively or widely. More recently, however, they have experienced a resurgence and mainstreaming, benefitting greatly from social media. This chapter examines the history of their use of the Internet with respect to: (1) how this developed in response to political changes and emerging technologies; (2) how it reflected and changed the status of such movements and their brand of hate; and (3) the relationship between online activity and traditional methods of communication.|
Media Jihad: The Islamic State’s Doctrine for Information Warfare
|Weeks after its capture of Mosul in 2014, the Islamic State set about transforming its strategic trajectory. Through an avalanche of media products, it worked to aggressively insert itself into the global public discourse and, in turn, popularise its brand, polarise adversary populations and drive rivals into the ideological side-lines. This research paper presents new, empirical insight into this troubling phenomenon, which has set a benchmark for insurgent strategic communications the world over. Comprising the translation and analysis of a 55-page document compiled and published by the Islamic State in 2016, it offers a unique window into the mind-set of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s propagandists.|
The Virtual 'Caliphate': Understanding Islamic State's Propaganda Strategy
|For too long, the immensity of Islamic State’s propaganda machine has obscured a rational
understanding of it. The organisation’s media strategists are producing high-definition depictions
of the most abhorrent brutality on an industrial scale, ensuring that jihadism is digitalised and
brought firmly into the 21st century. The days when we saw grainy video footage played on Al
Jazeera and propaganda was limited to stagnant speeches made by terrorist leaders are long gone.
Islamic State has revolutionised jihadist messaging, by jettisoning operational security in the
pursuit of dynamism, so that it can produce propaganda that tells a story, exciting or appalling its
viewers, depending on who they are.
This has not gone unnoticed, it is forever being discussed in the pages of our newspapers and on
the screens of our televisions – ‘high production value’ and ‘high definition’ are the new buzzwords
of today’s terrorism. While they may be appropriate terms, they have stopped us from rationally
assessing the organisation behind the glossy propaganda.
This report seeks to redress that situation, presenting the most extensive analysis of the
organisation’s propaganda strategy to date. It demonstrates that Islamic State’s media operation
is carefully calculated, with jihadist videographers producing bespoke content for a wide range of
audiences. It shows that the group’s brutality is a red herring; that the violence depicted is a result
of the propagandists’ desire to outrage hostile audiences abroad and gratify their supporters at
It is only after we have achieved an understanding of the motivations and objectives that drive the
Islamic State media machine that we can begin to challenge it effectively. How, for example, can
we be expected to develop a counter-narrative without knowing what narratives we are
countering? How can we propose effective counter messaging strategies unless we understand
what and how exactly the messages that we are countering are being disseminated, and to what
With hundreds of citizens from across the world travelling to join Islamic State’s terrorist
bastardisation of the ‘caliphate’, the situation has never been more critical. Extremist supporters
of Islamic State have already carried out attacks in countries around the world, from North
America to Australasia, and the threat of their intensification increases every day. It is imperative
that we – practitioners, policymakers and publics – better understand just how the messages of
indoctrination are delivered and hence what drives these individuals to waste life in the name of
Islamic State’s violent Islamist fantasy.
QUILLIAM CHARLIE WINTER
With this report, Quilliam’s Senior Researcher on Transnational Jihadism, Charlie Winter, has
made a most important contribution to the global effort to counter Islamic State. Through his
systematic research – which, over the course of the ‘caliphate’s’ first full year, involved daily
monitoring of terrorist activity on both Arabic- and English-language social media – he has been
able to critically assess the Islamic State media machine, both up close and from afar.
Through his assessment of Islamic State propaganda in aggregate, after his documenting of well
over a thousand individual propaganda campaigns, Charlie has been able to distil its
unprecedented jihadist brand into six key narratives: brutality, mercy, victimhood, war, belonging
and utopia. With these themes and their relative prevalence in mind, it was possible for him to
determine which audiences Islamic State targets in each of its campaigns: active opponents,
international publics, active members, potential recruits, disseminators, proselytizers and
enlisters. Evidently, the Islamic State propagandists know their game.
This war cannot be won through military and political means alone; it is as much a war of
information and propaganda as anything else and, currently, it is fatally imbalanced to the
advantage of Islamic State.
What this report makes very clear is that we need to respond in kind – relying upon someone else
to produce a panacea to it, a single counter-narrative that is universally appealing to all audiences,
is a fruitless pursuit. If the international community is to effectively approach the Islamic State
crisis, it must do so in a synchronised, comprehensive manner and revolutionise its approach to
Whether it is by matching the approach that Islamic State use or the sheer quantity of the content
they produce – an average of three videos and more than fifteen photographic reports are
circulated per day – we must respond to 21st Century jihadism by ensuring that we too are
operating in the same century.
Documenting the Virtual 'Caliphate'
|The menace presented by Islamic State’s (IS) self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ is uniquely challenging on a
number of levels. Tactically, its military operations demand lateral thinking, since the group exists as a
nebulous, swarming network constantly seeking to expand its reach. Strategically, too, it is pioneering
new insurgent methods, establishing numerous, complex administrative and institutional foundations
in Iraq and Syria that are already deeply rooted and sure to prolong the war for years to come, as the
middle ground between civilian and soldier is systematically destroyed. It is in psychological terms,
though, that IS has truly transformed the state of play. Its vast propaganda operation is unrivalled,
involving devoted media teams from West Africa to Afghanistan who work relentlessly, day and night,
in the production and dissemination of the ‘caliphate’ brand. So far, most of our attempts to
meaningfully mitigate IS’s ability to globally engage have been left floundering.
Numerically speaking, it is an uphill struggle. Though there are some commendable efforts being
undertaken by counter violent extremism practitioners and civil society organisations, they are dwarfed
in size by IS’s media behemoth, which produces on average 38 individual batches of propaganda each
day – videos, photo essays, articles and audio programmes. Apart from practicalities, the counter effort
is, from the offset, structurally impaired from success. Indeed, the cult of the counter-narrative has left
coalition partners working from within a reactive paradigm, something that means it is perpetually on
the back foot when it comes to presenting an alternative to what IS offers.
The difficulties we face in the information war on IS are not something of which we can opt out. Hence,
we need to recognise our weaknesses and circumnavigate the obstacles we face. Arguably the most
damaging of those weaknesses has been a persistent tendency to misunderstand just what it is that IS
is doing – myriad questions have been asked, and most left unanswered.
In the Quilliam Foundation’s latest research into IS propaganda, Senior Researcher Charlie Winter
presents us with a truly ground-breaking window into the mind of the propagandist, demystifying the
media war more than ever before. Between 17 July and 15 August 2015, the Islamic month of Shawwal,
Charlie compiled an exhaustive archive of IS propaganda, creating not just a snapshot of its output, but
a comprehensive, 30-day view of it.
Over the course of the data collection period, he recorded 1146 separate propaganda “events”,
discrete batches of data that were disseminated with a view to bolstering the IS world view, be that
through graphic violence or millenarian scenes of vividly lit fairgrounds. Each event was recorded
according to 7 variables and then grouped by narrative and subcategory, enabling detailed analysis. By
postponing any assessment until the data had been collected in full, Charlie was able to circumvent IS’s
tactical saturation of the Internet and consider its messaging in an aggregated, considered manner. In
so doing, as important trends, iniquities and anomalies that are otherwise impossible to discern become
strikingly apparent, he has presented us with an important tactical and strategic insight into the virtual
When it comes to IS propaganda, it is imperative that we understand it in as granular and nuanced a
manner as possible. Using data to test the hypothesis of the July 2015 report ‘The Virtual ‘Caliphate’:
Understanding Islamic State’s Propaganda Strategy’, Charlie has illuminated the bare bones of the IS
brand. It is high time we recognised that there is no elixir that can deliver us from IS’ information
supremacy, no catch-all counter-narrative to undercut its carefully cultivated and choreographed
image. In this absence, we must instead seek to enrich our understanding. The IS ‘caliphate’ is marketing
itself on an industrial scale. If we are to destroy its brand, we must first be able to fathom its depths.
Response on Paris Attacks - with Charlie Winter
|17 November: In the wake of November's deadly attacks in Paris, Charlie Winter (Georgia State University) gives a preview of a forthcoming Legatum Institute report, of which he is co-author, that looks at the role of the internet in transforming disinformation and propaganda from groups such as ISIS. More information: http://www.li.com/events/propaganda-a...|
Apocalypse, Later: A Longitudinal Study of the Islamic State Brand
|This article compares two universes of official Islamic State media that were compiled 18 months apart. It explores the nuances of the group’s worldview and illustrates the extent to which external and internal situational exigencies impacted the Islamic State’s brand during its formative years as caliphate. It finds that the organization’s media infrastructure was about half as productive in early 2017 as it had been in mid-2015. The data also show that, even though the group had internationalized its theater of terrorist operations during the time period in question, the brand itself actually contracted to become markedly less globalized in 2016. Finally, the data indicate a substantial thematic rearrangement in the organization’s propaganda, one that saw its story shifting away from the millenarian “utopia” towards military denialism. In sum, the data indicate that the Islamic State propagandists were far less productive by January 2017, and that their aggregate product was less international and less utopian but more militant and more defiant, a shift that suggested a new phase in their political marketing operations, one focused on framing the caliphate as an embattled but still defiant pseudo-state struggling to maintain past momentum.|
Making Sense of Jihadi Stratcom: The Case of the Islamic State
|This article explores why jihadis make propaganda. Through the analytical lens of Bockstette’s 2008 framework for jihadi communication strategies, it assesses two of the Islamic State’s most important doctrinal texts on media jihad—the first, a little-known speech by Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir that was published posthumously in 2010, and the second, a field-guide prepared by the Islamic State’s official publishing house, the Himmah Library, in 2015. After drawing out the core insights, similarities and presuppositions of each text, it discusses the enduring salience of Bockstette’s model on the one hand and these two texts on the other, noting that, while it is imprudent to make policy predictions based on them alone, so too would it be remiss to ignore the strategic insights they contain.|