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
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.
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.
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.
Daesh Propaganda, Before and After its Collapse: Countering Violent Extremism
2019 Winter, C. Report
This report compares two archives of official Daesh media that were compiled four years apart. It explores the nuances of the group’s worldview and tracks how external and internal situational exigencies impacted them during its formative years as a caliphate. It finds that the organisation’s media infrastructure was about one tenth as productive in mid-2019 as it was in mid-2015. The data also show that it was spending more time covering the pursuits of its global network in 2019 than in 2015. Finally, the data point towards a substantial thematic rearrangement in the organisation’s overarching propaganda narrative that manifested in it shifting its story away from millenarian utopianism and towards military denialism. In sum, the data indicate that by 2019 Daesh’s propagandists were far less productive and their aggregate product was more international and less focused on civilian issues. This shift points towards a new phase in the group’s political marketing trajectory, one focused more on survival than on expansion.
Jihadist Online Communication and Finland
2019 Malkki, L. and Pohjonen, M. Report
This study focuses on jihadist online communication in 2014–2018 from the perspective of Finland. In particular, it examines and analyses the visibility of Finland and persons connected to Finland in jihadist online communication and investigates the types of content persons who are or were living in Finland have produced and disseminated content on different online platforms and channels. The report focuses on jihadist material that was openly available online during this period. It also contains a section describing the development of jihadist online communication more generally, thus helping to put observations in a broader international context.
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.
‘The Baghdadi Net’: How A Network of ISIL-Supporting Accounts Spread Across Twitter
2019 Ayad, M. Report
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.
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.
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.
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.
Modeling Islamist Extremist Communications on Social Media using Contextual Dimensions: Religion, Ideology, and Hate
2019 Kursuncu, U., Gaur, M., Castillo, C., Alambo, A. Thirunarayan, K., Shalin, V., Achilov, D., Budak Arpinar, I. and Sheth, A. Article
Terror attacks have been linked in part to online extremist content. Although tens of thousands of Islamist extremism supporters consume such content, they are a small fraction relative to peaceful Muslims. The efforts to contain the ever-evolving extremism on social media platforms have remained inadequate and mostly ineffective. Divergent extremist and mainstream contexts challenge machine interpretation, with a particular threat to the precision of classification algorithms. Our context-aware computational approach to the analysis of extremist content on Twitter breaks down this persuasion process into building blocks that acknowledge inherent ambiguity and sparsity that likely challenge both manual and automated classification. We model this process using a combination of three contextual dimensions -- religion, ideology, and hate -- each elucidating a degree of radicalization and highlighting independent features to render them computationally accessible. We utilize domain-specific knowledge resources for each of these contextual dimensions such as Qur'an for religion, the books of extremist ideologues and preachers for political ideology and a social media hate speech corpus for hate. Our study makes three contributions to reliable analysis: (i) Development of a computational approach rooted in the contextual dimensions of religion, ideology, and hate that reflects strategies employed by online Islamist extremist groups, (ii) An in-depth analysis of relevant tweet datasets with respect to these dimensions to exclude likely mislabeled users, and (iii) A framework for understanding online radicalization as a process to assist counter-programming. Given the potentially significant social impact, we evaluate the performance of our algorithms to minimize mislabeling, where our approach outperforms a competitive baseline by 10.2% in precision.
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.
The Roles of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Media Tools and Technologies in the Facilitation of Violent Extremism and Terrorism
2019 Scrivens, R. and Conway, M. Chapter
The media and communication strategies of two particular ideologies are focused on herein: right-wing extremists and violent jihadis – albeit an array of others is referred to also (e.g. nationalist-separatists such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and violent Islamists such as Hezbollah). Violent jihadists are inspired by Sunni Islamist-Salafism and seek to establish an Islamist society governed by their version of Islamic or Sharia law imposed by violence (Moghadam, 2008). Right-wing extremists may also subscribe to some radical interpretation of religion, but unlike those inspired by radical Islam, many extreme right adherents are not inspired by religious beliefs per se. Instead, what binds these actors is a racially, ethnically, and sexually defined nationalism, which is typically framed in terms of white power and grounded in xenophobic and exclusionary understandings of the perceived threats posed by such groups as non-whites, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, homosexuals, and feminists. Here the state is perceived as an illegitimate power serving the interests of all but the white man and, as such, right-wing extremists are willing to assume both an offensive and defensive stance in the interests of “preserving” their heritage and their “homeland” (Perry & Scrivens, 2016). With regard to the chapter’s structuring, the following sections are ordered chronologically, treating, in turn, early low-tech communication methods or what we term ‘pre-media,’ followed by other relatively low-tech tools, such as print and photocopying. The high-tech tools reviewed are film, radio, and television, followed by the Internet, especially social media.
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.
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.
The battle for truth: How online newspaper commenters defend their censored expressions
2019 Fangen, K. and Holter, C. R. Article
The presence of hate speech in the commentary field of online newspapers is a pressing challenge for free speech policy. We have conducted interviews with 15 people whose comments were censored for posting comments of a racist, discriminatory or hateful nature. What characterizes their self-understanding and enemy images? We found that central to their motivation for writing such comments was an understanding of themselves as particularly knowledgeable people. They see themselves as people who fight for the revelation of the truth, in contrast to the lies spread by politicians and the media. Furthermore, they regard politicians and the media as corrupt elites that are leading our society into destruction by their naïve support of liberal migration policies. By linking up to alternative news media, these individuals support various forms of racialized conspiracy theories, but also a form of radical right-wing populism in their concern that politics should be acted out by people themselves. As such, our study adds to the literature on conspiracy theories in general and racialized conspiracy theories in particular, but also to the literature on online far-right activists. Our contribution lies both in the newness of focusing on the self-perceptions, but also in opening up for a modification of existing literature on the far right.
Understanding the Radical Mind: Identifying Signals to Detect Extremist Content on Twitter
2019 Nouh, M., Nurse, J. R. C. and Goldsmith, M. Article
The Internet and, in particular, Online Social Networks have changed the way that terrorist and extremist groups can influence and radicalise individuals. Recent reports show that the mode of operation of these groups starts by exposing a wide audience to extremist material online, before migrating them to less open online platforms for further radicalization. Thus, identifying radical content online is crucial to limit the reach and spread of the extremist narrative. In this paper, our aim is to identify measures to automatically detect radical content in social media. We identify several signals, including textual, psychological and behavioural, that together allow for the classification of radical messages. Our contribution is threefold: (1) we analyze propaganda material published by extremist groups and create a contextual text-based model of radical content, (2) we build a model of psychological properties inferred from these material, and (3) we evaluate these models on Twitter to determine the extent to which it is possible to automatically identify online radical tweets. Our results show that radical users do exhibit distinguishable textual, psychological, and behavioural properties. We find that the psychological properties are among the most distinguishing features. Additionally, our results show that textual models using vector embedding features significantly improves the detection over TF-IDF features. We validate our approach on two experiments achieving high accuracy. Our findings can be utilized as signals for detecting online radicalization activities.
“Yes, I can”: what is the role of perceived self-efficacy in violent online-radicalisation processes of “homegrown” terrorists?
2019 Schlegel, L. Article
Radicalisation is influenced by a multitude of factors such as situational, social and psychological factors, including social-cognitive processes. This article explores how homegrown extremists are influenced by their perceived agency and how the beliefs of their own abilities to change their situation are directly shaped by the online-propaganda they consume using ISIS propaganda as a case study. The article serves as an exploratory analysis of the potential explanatory qualities of Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. This preliminary theoretical work explores how online-propaganda seeks to increase perceived personal self-efficacy to inspire action. The findings indicate that an increased focus on agency beliefs may facilitate a more holistic understanding of the psycho-social processes influencing radicalization and factors driving certain individuals to perpetrate violence while others do not. More research needs to be conducted, but this work is a first exploratory step in advancing our understanding of self-efficacy beliefs in the radicalization of homegrown extremists.
A Critical Analysis of the Jihadi Discourse through Online Magazines with Special Reference to ‘Wyeth’ Magazine
2019 Neelamalar, M. and Mangala Vadivu, V. Article
‘Jihadism’ (also known as the jihadi movement) is a popular term that signifies the Islamic terror movement which thrives on extremist ideologies and violence. In addition to the conventional practices, the online medium is currently being employed for disseminating these extremist ideologies across the globe. Radicalisation and recruitment of geographically dispersed individuals as ‘jihadists’ for supporting Islamic terror activities tend to be the primary intent for using the digital platforms as the medium of communication in this context. One such initiative by the Lashkar-e-Taiba of Jammu and Kashmir was the release of the ‘Wyeth: The Resistance in Flow’, an e-magazine which was launched on April 2018. The first issue which was posted with an open access option was primarily designed to influence the Indian youth population through the radical interpretations of Islam. Hence, it is crucial to analyse and understand the jihadi discourse of the Wyeth magazine in order to curb and counter-attack such initiatives at its initial phase. For this purpose, the present study aims to examine the content of the Wyeth magazine and analyse the basic traits of the jihadi propaganda and its potential to aid in the self-radicalisation process.
The platform governance triangle: conceptualising the informal regulation of online content
2019 Gorwa, R. Article
From the new Facebook ‘Oversight Body’ for content moderation to the ‘Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorism and violent extremism online,’ a growing number of voluntary and non-binding informal governance initiatives have recently been proposed as attractive ways to rein in Facebook, Google, and other platform companies hosting user-generated content. Drawing on the literature on transnational corporate governance, this article reviews a number of informal arrangements governing online content on platforms in Europe, mapping them onto Abbott and Snidal’s (2009) ‘governance triangle’ model. I discuss three key dynamics shaping the success of informal governance arrangements: actor competencies, ‘legitimation politics,’ and inter-actor relationships of power and coercion.