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.
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.|
Daesh Propaganda, Before and After its Collapse
|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.|
Daesh Propaganda, Before and After its Collapse: Countering Violent Extremism
|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.|
Framing War: Visual Propaganda, the Islamic State, and the Battle for East Mosul
|This article explores how propaganda can be used to construct counter-factual visual narratives at times of war. Specifically, it examines how the Islamic State communicated its way through the 100-day-long battle for east Mosul, which was launched by the coalition and its allies in October 2016. Drawing on Jacques Ellul’s 1962 theory of propaganda, it uses qualitative content analysis to decipher the 1,261 media products published online by the group during the first phase of its defence of the city. The author contends that, even though it was resoundingly defeated there by January, the global legacy of this battle, which was used as a testing ground for a series of potent innovations in insurgent strategic communication, will endure long into the future.|
Redefining ‘Propaganda’: The Media Strategy of the Islamic State
|In this article, Charlie Winter challenges the way in which the word ‘propaganda’ is used in contemporary discourse around war and terrorism. He considers the case of the Islamic State, using it to demonstrate that the term – as it is conventionally understood – is an inadequate tool when it comes to describing the full range of tactical and strategic approaches to communication that are employed by insurgents today. If anything, he contends, ‘propaganda’ refers to an entire information ecosystem in which different media are geared towards different tasks.|
Mapping The Extremist Narrative Landscape In Afghanistan
|2020||Winter, C. and Alrhmoun, A.||Report|
|This report, which maps how Violent Extremist Organisations (VEOs) are seeking to influence and shape the trajectory of Afghan politics today, aims to inform and support the development
of strategic communications programming that meaningfully counters extremist narratives and enable more targeted, effective responses to the long-term challenges posed by VEO appeals.
Online Extremism: Research Trends in Internet Activism, Radicalization, and Counter-Strategies
|2020||Winter, C., Neumann, P., Meleagrou-Hitchens, A., Ranstorp, M., Vidino, L. and Fürst, J.||Article|
|This article reviews the academic literature on how and for what purposes violent extremists use the Internet, at both an individual and organizational level. After defining key concepts like extremism, cyber-terrorism and online radicalization, it provides an overview of the virtual extremist landscape, tracking its evolution from static websites and password-protected forums to mainstream social media and encrypted messaging apps. The reasons why violent extremist organizations use online tools are identified and evaluated, touching on propaganda, recruitment, logistics, funding, and hacking. After this, the article turns to the ways violent extremist individuals use the Internet, discussing its role as a facilitator for socialization and learning. The review concludes by considering the emergent literature on how violent extremism is being countered online, touching on both defensive and offensive measures.|
Terror on Twitter: A Comparative Analysis of Gender and the Involvement in Pro-Jihadist Communities on Twitter
|2016||Witmer, E.W.||MA Thesis|
|Social media has become the milieu of choice to radicalize young impressionable minds by terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. While a plethora of research exists on the recruitment and propaganda efforts by terrorist organizations there is limited number of quantitative studies that observe the relationship of gender and the involvement in online radical milieus. This current research will build upon prior studies through the comparative analysis of 750 unique Twitter accounts supporting the IS and the affiliates of al-Qaeda that were non-randomly sampled between January and September of 2015. The research aimed to address the questions of: 1) whether women that are involved in pro-jihadist communities on Twitter post substantively different amounts of content than men, 2) whether women that are involved in pro-jihadist communities on Twitter post substantively different content than their male counterparts and, 3) whether the gender disparity in level and type of involvement on Twitter differ amongst the supporters of different jihadist organizations. This study found that, while pro-jihadist communities on Twitter continue to be dominated by male participation, female supporters of the IS are more active and post more violent content than women that support any other organization. The intragroup differences found amongst the female supporters suggests that group ideology, recruitment and
propaganda strategies play a role in the level of involvement of women in radical milieus.
‘Don’t Talk to Me’: Effects of Ideologically Homogeneous Online Groups and Politically Dissimilar Offline Ties on Extremism
|This study analyzes cross-sectional data obtained from respondents in neo-Nazi online discussion forums and textual data from postings to these forums. It assesses the impact of participation in radical and homogeneous online groups on opinion extremism and probes whether this impact depends on political dissimilarity of strong and weak offline ties. Specifically, does dissimilarity attenuate (as deliberative theorists hope) or rather exacerbate (as research on biased processing predicts) extreme opinions? As expected, extremism increases with increased online participation, likely due to the informational and normative influences operating within online groups. Supporting the deliberative and biased processing models, both like-minded and dissimilar social ties offline exacerbate extremism. Consistent with the biased processing model, dissimilar offline ties exacerbate the effects of online groups. The theoretical and practical implications are discussed.|
Social Media: A Source Of Radicalization And A Window Of Opportunity, Lessons From Israel
PROTOCOL: What are the effects of different elements of media on radicalization outcomes? A systematic review
|2021||Wolfowicz, M., Hasisi, B. and Weisburd, D.||Article|
|Objectives: In this systematic review and meta analysis we will collate and synthesize the evidence on media‐effects for radicalization, focusing on both cognitive
and behavioral outcomes. The goal is to identify the relative magnitudes of the effects for different mediums, types of content, and elements of human‐media
Methodology: Random‐effects meta analysis will be used and the results will be rank‐ordered according to the size of the pooled estimates for the different factors.
Meta‐regressions, moderator analysis, and sub‐group analyses will be used to investigate sources of heterogeneity.
Implications: The results of this review will provide a better understanding of the relative magnitude of the effects of media‐related factors. This information should
help the development of more evidence‐based policies.
What are the effects of different elements of media on radicalization outcomes? A systematic review
|2022||Wolfowicz, M., Hasisi, B. and Weisburd, D.||Article|
|This systematic review and meta-analysis sought to (1) identify and synthesize the effects of different media-related risk factors at the individual level, (2) identify the relative magnitudes of the effect sizes for the different risk factors, and (3) compare the effects between outcomes of cognitive and behavioral radicalization. The review also sought to examine sources of heterogeneity between different radicalizing ideologies.|
Examining the interactive effects of the filter bubble and the echo chamber on radicalization
|2021||Wolfowicz, M., Weisburd, D. and Hasisi, B.||Article|
Despite popular notions of “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers” contributing to radicalization, little evidence exists to support these hypotheses. However, social structure social learning theory would suggest a hereto untested interaction effect.
An RCT of new Twitter users in which participants were randomly assigned to a treatment of “filter bubble” (personalization algorithm) suppression. Ego-centric network and survey data were combined to test the effects on justification for suicide bombings.
Statistically significant interaction effects were found for two proxies of the echo chamber, the E-I index and modularity. For the treatment group, higher scores on both factors decreased the likelihood for radicalization, with opposing trends in the control group.
The echo chamber effect may be dependent on the filter bubble. More research is needed on online network structures in radicalization. While personalization algorithms can potentially be harmful, they may also be leveraged to facilitate interventions.
21st Century Radicalization: The Role Of The Internet User And Nonuser In Terrorist Outcomes
|2014||Woodring, D.W.||MA Thesis|
|This study examines differences between users and nonusers of information communication technologies (ICTs) within the pre-incident planning processes for domestic terrorist movements operating within the United States. In addition, this study is the first quantitative exploration of the prevalence, types, and purposes of ICT use within terrorist movements, specifically environmental, far-right, and Islamic extremist movements. Using“officially designated” federal terrorism investigations from the American Terrorism Study (ATS), we analyzed extracted evidence of ICT usage among individuals (n =331) engaged in the pre-incident planning processes as members of terrorist movements between 1995-2011. While we find significant differences in terrorist ICT use across terrorist movements, our findings suggest that demographics are not a strong predictor of usage. We find the highest prevalence of usage among Islamic movements. However, evidence of online radicalization or recruitment was found predominantly among environmental movements. We conclude with a discussion of these findings and their implications for counterterrorism policy.|