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.
‘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.
Virtual Plotters. Drones. Weaponized AI?: Violent Non-State Actors as Deadly Early Adopters
2019 Gartenstein-Ross, D., Shear, M. and Jones, D. Report
Over the past decade, violent non-state actors’ (VNSAs) adoption of new technologies that can help their operations have tended to follow a recognizable general pattern, which this study dubs the VNSA technology adoption curve: As a consumer technology becomes widely available, VNSAs find ways to adapt it to their deadly purposes. This curve tends to progress in four stages:

1. Early Adoption – The VNSA tries to adopt a new technology, and disproportionately underperforms or fails in definable ways.
2. Iteration – The consumer technology that the VNSA is attempting to repurpose undergoes improvements driven by the companies that brought the technology to market. These improvements are designed to enhance consumers’ experience and the utility that consumers derive from the technology. The improvements help the intended end user, but also aid the VNSA, which iterates alongside the company.
3. Breakthrough – During this stage, the VNSA’s success rate with the new technology significantly improves.
4. Competition – Following the VNSA’s seemingly sudden success, technology companies, state actors, and other stakeholders develop countermeasures designed to mitigate the VNSA’s exploitation of the technology. The outcome of this phase is uncertain, as both the VNSA and its competitors enter relatively uncharted territory in the current technological environment. The authorities and VNSA will try to stay one step ahead of one another.

This report begins by explaining the adoption curve, and more broadly the manner in which VNSAs engage in organizational learning. The report then details two critical case studies of past VNSA technological adoption to illustrate how the adoption curve works in practice, and to inform our analysis of VNSA technological adoptions that are likely in the future.
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.
Right-Wing Extremists’ Persistent Online Presence: History and Contemporary Trends
2019 Conway, M., Scrivens, R. and Macnair, L. Report
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.
Branding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
2019 Bandopadhyaya, S. Article
This article will explore three crucial parameters that have been taken into consideration to attract millennials towards the Islamic State or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) brand: the first parameter is story creation around the historical significance of Islamic prophecies justifying the ISIS brand. Second is the symbolisms attached to the ISIS brand and its relevance (a flag, a leader, a logo, a caliphate) and, third, the actions or the sense of attachment to the ISIS brand in the form of practising ideology, gaining recognition and appeal to the millennials. The promotion of the brand has been advanced through diverse means – social media platforms, mainstream media organizations, YouTube videos, all orchestrated to gain recognition of a rising state brand on the one end and a brand of fear and intimidation on the other.
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.