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
Introduction: Exploring societal resilience to online polarization and extremism
2022 Watkin, A., Gerrand, V. and Conway, M. Article
The seven articles in this special issue were selected from those delivered at a series of workshops undertaken by the European Commission H2020-funded Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism (BRaVE) Project in 2020–2021. Understanding polarization and (violent) extremism as distinct, interlinked, phenomena, the collected articles ask how online platforms can be mobilised to disrupt and reframe ideologies underpinning polarising and extremist messaging. To what extent can social media platforms serve as critical resources that contribute to building pro-social resilience? And, how can we build on what has been effective so far in terms of building online resilience, including what else might social media platforms and their users do to enhance what has already been found to be effective?
Learning from Foes: How Racially and Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists Embrace and Mimic Islamic State’s Use of Emerging Technologies
2022 Veilleux-Lepage, Y., Daymon, C. and Archambault, E. Report
This report concerns itself with terrorist technical innovation, particularly with regards to terrorists’ incorporation of emerging technologies into their practices. More specifically, it investigates, through the elaboration of a theoretical learning framework, how terrorist groups can adopt the practices of ideological enemies operating in different security, ideological and political environments. It does so through a study of three cases of emerging technology use by Islamic State (IS) and racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists (REMVE), which shed light on why ideologically diverse groups might adopt practices from each other.
Examining Online Indicators of Extremism among Violent and Non-Violent Right-Wing Extremists
2022 Scrivens, R. Article
Although there is an ongoing need for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify and assess the online activities of violent extremists prior to their engagement in violence offline, little is empirically known about their online posting patterns generally or differences in their online patterns compared to non-violent extremists who share similar ideological beliefs particularly. Even less is empirically known about how their online patterns compare to those who post in extremist spaces in general. This study addresses this gap through a content analysis of postings from a unique sample of violent and non-violent right-wing extremists as well as from a sample of postings within a sub-forum of the largest white supremacy web-forum, Stormfront. Here the existence of extremist ideologies, personal grievances, and violent extremist mobilization efforts were quantified within each of the three sample groups. Several notable differences in posting patterns were observed across samples, many of which may inform future risk factor frameworks used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify credible threats online. This study concludes with a discussion of the implications of the analysis, its limitations, and avenues for future research.
Communicative channels for pro-social resilience in an age of polarization
2022 Gerrand, V. Article
While the messaging tactics of extremist organizations have been studied by researchers, little attention has been devoted to understanding how alternative multimodal communications can enable resistance to polarizing content. This article takes as case studies three grassroots youth arts projects that deploy multimodal resources to educate and build resilience: Build Solid Ground, Jamal al-Khatib and Loulu. The projects won awards at the Horizon 2020 Building Resilience to Violent Extremism and Polarisation (BRaVE) Fair, which was hosted by the Berlin-based intercultural organization Cultures Interactive and took place via Zoom in November 2020. In the pandemic context of increased time spent online, polarization, and growing social and structural vulnerability in which young people face uncertain futures, these projects have been selected for their ability to build channels of communication that support pro-social resilience.
The name of the game: Promoting resilience against extremism through an online gaming campaign
2022 Pisoiu, D. and Lippe, F. Article
Extremist and terrorist groups are known to have used games and gaming successfully in their online recruitment and indoctrination campaigns. What are the possibilities for using online games to generate resilience against extremism? Current research on online counter and alternative narratives generally acknowledges effects in terms of awareness raising, yet is skeptical when it comes to impact, mostly owing to the limited evidence and empirical research in this area. A related problem with the early counter and alternative narrative campaigns, however, has been not only a lack of initial preparatory work on understanding the radicalization process itself — specifically, on how narratives are produced and disseminated — but also on aspects relating to the audience, the messenger, and the communications strategy more broadly. In designing DECOUNT, an online game that incorporates both counter and alternative narratives, we have taken these aspects into consideration and created an accessible, easy-to-use product by first researching the following: individual radicalization processes; extremist online propaganda narratives and imagery; and the preferences and issues of the target population. We then created and tested the game and placed it on particular social media platforms (Instagram, YouTube/Let’s Play), with appropriate targeting. Finally, we carried out a number of evaluation procedures, including a qualitative assessment and two quasi-experiments. This paper outlines this preparatory, creative, and evaluative work, and contextualizes it within the literature on the role played by online platforms and content both in individual radicalization processes and in creating resilience.
The right-leaning be memeing: Extremist uses of Internet memes and insights for CVE design
2022 Bolaños Somoano, I. Article
This article constitutes a first step in understanding how Internet memes are used in extreme-right online milieus and formulating appropriate policy responses. First it looks at existing literature on memes as communication units. Secondly, it looks at the particular ways in which transnational extreme-right groups use Internet memes. Thirdly, it discusses the applicability of these memes to resilience-building projects targeting the extreme right. The article’s conclusions discourage the use of Internet memes by state and security actors, while highlighting positive uses by grassroots organisations. Some notes on further necessary research conclude the piece.
Designing recommender systems to depolarize
2022 Stray, J. Article
Polarization is implicated in the erosion of democracy and the progression to violence, which makes the polarization properties of large algorithmic content selection systems (recommender systems) a matter of concern for peace and security. While algorithm-driven social media do not seem to be a primary driver of polarization at the country level, they could be a useful intervention point in polarized societies. This paper examines algorithmic depolarization interventions aimed at transforming conflict: not suppressing or eliminating conflict, but making it more constructive. Algorithmic intervention is considered at three stages: what content is available (moderation), how content is selected and personalized (ranking), and content presentation and controls (user interface). Empirical studies of online conflict suggest that not only could the exposure-diversity intervention proposed as an antidote to ‘filter bubbles’ be improved: under some conditions, it can even worsen polarization. Using civility metrics in conjunction with diversity in content selection may be more effective. However, diversity-based interventions have not been tested at scale, and may not work in the diverse and dynamic contexts of real platforms. Instead, intervening in platform polarization dynamics will likely require continuous monitoring of polarization metrics, such as the widely used ‘feeling thermometer’. These metrics can be used to evaluate product features, and can potentially be engineered as algorithmic objectives. While using any metric as an optimization target may have harmful consequences, to prevent optimization processes from creating conflict as a side effect it may prove necessary to include polarization measures in the objective function of recommender algorithms.
Building social capital to counter polarization and extremism? A comparative analysis of tech platforms' official blog posts
2022 Watkin, A. and Conway, M. Article
This research employs the concept of social capital to compare the efforts that a range of tech companies have claimed to take to counter polarization and extremism and build resilience on their platforms. The dataset on which our analysis is based is made-up of a purposive sample of official blog posts from three ‘older’ (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and three ‘newer’ (i.e., TikTok, Discord, and Telegram) technology platforms. The selected posts focused on companies’ efforts to make their platform safer, build community resilience, counter violent extremism and/or polarization, or mentioned related topics such as countering hate organizations, radicalization, or misinformation. Revealed were seven themes incorporating, to a greater or lesser extent, the three main types of social capital (i.e., bonding, bridging and linking). These themes were granting user powers, strengthening existing communities, provision of information and education, building community, enhancing user rights, keeping users safe, and building trust and relationships with users. Analysis of these showed that while creation of all three types of social capital was apparent, similar to previous studies, bridging capital dominated here too; while there were some discrepancies between social capital generating activities and their framings on ‘older’ versus ‘newer’ platforms, other factors, including platform size and company values are likely to be equally or more important; and, finally, that companies attempts at generating online social capital can have negative as well as positive impacts with regard to countering polarization and extremism.
Understanding the #plandemic: Core framings on Twitter and what this tells us about countering online far right COVID-19 conspiracies
2022 McNeil-Willson, R. Article
This paper examines the need and possibility for developing online resilience-based approaches in response to COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies, often linked to the far right. Examining three datasets collected between December 2020 and April 2021, this paper details conspiracy narratives that have developed around COVID-19 vaccines, with specific focus on understanding the deployment of the idea of a planned pandemic or so-called ‘#plandemic’. This is then used to consider where existing resilience-based approaches to countering off-line polarisation and extremism might posit an appropriate online response. The article identifies four key #plandemic framings of COVID-19 vaccines — as control, as reset, as unnecessary and as unsafe — and analyses how these themes are constructed, to find that they are often created through hostile and confrontational interaction with other users. Based on these findings, the conclusion suggests companies shift their focus away from ‘negative’ approaches to content moderation (e.g., content removal) and towards resilience-building responses that cultivate flexible individual identities, build community support networks, and/or engage users with national and supranational democratic structures, as a more effective response to the sharing of online conspiracies.
Conspiracy, anxiety, ontology: Theorising QAnon
2022 Fitzgerald, J. Article
The rise of QAnon presents researchers with a number of important questions. While emerging literature provides insights into how QAnon exists online, there is a dearth of theoretical engagement with the questions of why it exists, and what conditions brought it into being. This paper seeks to address this gap by contextualizing QAnon as an ontological phenomenon underpinned by anxiety, and inquiring into the identity formation strategies employed by the movement. Applying the basic precepts of discourse theory and discourse analysis to a representative canon of QAnon content, it finds that, like other formations of collective identity, QAnon is premised on interconnected dynamics of ontological fulfillment that cannot be explained away by pointing to ‘the algorithm’ or ‘madness’. Nor can it be tackled effectively by the content takedowns and de-platforming strategies currently employed. The paper concludes with a call to explore more empathetic engagement with conspiracy adherents, arguing that until we (re)discover a more inclusive, agonistic politics, QAnon and other fantastical conspiracy movements will continue to arise and some may metastasize into violent action. New forms of resilience to (online) polarization can be built on this principle.
The Role of Honeypots and Sabotage in State-Based Operations Against Online Jihadism, 2001-2020
2022 Torres-Soriano, M.R. Article
This article offers a descriptive analysis of intelligence operations carried out by the United States and its allies against the presence of jihadist groups on the Internet during the period 2001–2020. In contrast to actions aimed at eliminating the virtual spaces in which terrorists operate, the intelligence operations analysed here are designed to erode terrorists’ trust in such spaces without compromising intelligence sources. The article argues that the combination of cyberattacks and psychological operations in the form of honeypots and sabotage have achieved considerable success in terms of reducing terrorist activities on the Internet and undermining the effectiveness of propaganda initiatives undertaken by terrorist groups.
Online Discourses in Post-Soviet Media: The Threat of the Islamic State in Central Asia
2022 Turaeva, R. Article
This article contributes to the growing field of social media and internet research, focusing on questions of securitization and examining the internet politics of Central Asia with a specific focus on Turkmenistan. The article extends the brief analysis introduced by Tucker and Turaeva (2016) concerning Turkmen nationals joining IS (Islamic State). Here, I have contextualized those reported discussions into a wider geopolitical and sociological positioning of the participants (both individual and states) with the aim of uncovering the methods and principles that state and non-state actors use to construct discourses of threat and danger on social media and elsewhere on the internet. I argue that social media and the internet have moved beyond being a means for open communication and exchange; they have also come to be used by authoritarian states to suppress, control, and manipulate certain discourses. In the case of Turkmenistan, social media helps to control security discourse about the ISIS threat and the presence of Turkmenistani nationals in the group, even as it grants open access to information.
Ethnographizing Islamic State's Digital Community on Telegram Platform
2022 Spagna, N.G. Book
Over time cyberspace has become an increasingly relevant environment for Islamic terrorism. The advent of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in 2014 showed capability in exploiting jihadist propaganda and terror communication to radicalize and mobilize sympathizers globally. The digital arena has assumed a central role in the online jihadist movement. This centrality manifested itself in establishing an increasingly active Digital Caliphate declined in a community shape. The community's members migrated on different digital platforms, consolidating mainly on Telegram between 2017 and the end of 2019 when the extremist digital community was hardly hit by a counterterrorism operation led by Europol. However, how was the Digital Caliphate organized on Telegram? Was there any leadership within this community? Who were the main actors' part of it? How did the trust-building process work amongst strangers but close to the same extremist ideology? Furthermore, what were the expressive, communicative and symbolic features of the online jihadist culture? By applying digital ethnography through the covert participant observation lasting about two years within the pro-IS digital community on Telegram, this study seeks to provide an insight into the social, cultural and organizational anatomy of the Digital Caliphate and its members by identifying a possible organizational model. Extensive reflection was also dedicated to the ethical dimension; thus, the potentiality emerged from applying the ethnographic approach when considered a counterterrorism tool called "Digital Humint". The "Think Terrorist" approach, a process that immerses the researcher within the extremist perspective, is not limited to being an academic exercise but becomes an analysis tool that helps identify future threats. Interpreting the jihadist ecosystems and the role of technology increases our understanding and provides new insights for future prevention strategies. That is the challenge that poses academics and law enforcement agencies as increasingly converging actors in fighting against terrorism.
Radical Right Activities in Nusantara’s Digital Landscape: A Snapshot
2022 Mustaffa, M. Report
This study analysed three social media movements linked with extreme right‑wing activities online. Such activities were carried out by right‑wing extremists and those who support their philosophy of nationalism and religious conservatism, whether actively or passively. This study also investigated how themes and narratives from across the globe, such as US political discourse, Russian disinformation and conspiracy theories, are combined with real‑life local grievances in order to appeal to similarly aligned followers to help to disseminate and legitimise reactionary speech.
Report: A Case Study in Neo-Fascist Accelerationist Coalition Building Online
2022 Shadnia, D. Newhouse, A., Kriner, M. and Bradley, A. Report
This report provides an overview of two seemingly new formations of online networks of accelerationist and neo-fascist entities that emerged in early 2021 and are self-described Atomwaffen Division spinoffs. It also provides an understanding of how they behave online and speaks to the threats of offline violence they pose.
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.
Countering Violent Extremism in Central Asia and South Asia: Islamophobia and Cyber-Radicalization in the Digital Era
2022 Farhadi, A. Chapter
Widespread political and economic uncertainty following the COVID-19 pandemic, paired with increased access to digital messaging and online social media platforms, has rendered vulnerable populations in Central Asia and South Asia (CASA) even more susceptible to misinformation, radical propaganda, and population targeting by violent extremists. More, studies show that violent extremism is inextricably linked with Islamophobia. Violent extremist recruiters frequently capitalize on publicized Islamophobic events to spread digital misinformation and lure disenfranchised recruits, particularly among youth populations. A debilitated Afghanistan only compounds these issues in CASA. The growing humanitarian crisis in the wake of U.S. military withdrawal, leaves this impoverished nation ripe for the proliferation of violent extremist activity that will reach far beyond its borders. Weaponized cyber-misinformation is a moving target that threatens even rural populations. Effective deterrence calls for novel multilateral efforts between great and local powers, both on and offline, to dispel skewed narratives and reinforce positive counter-narratives. While expanding access to digital communications in CASA presents obvious challenges for countering violent extremism, it likewise affords vital new opportunities for cooperation between global and regional powers to reach previously unreachable, vulnerable populations.
Extremist Radicalization in the Virtual Era: Analyzing the Neurocognitive Process of Online Radicalization
2022 Howard, T., Poston, B. and Lopez, A. Article
Emerging research on the etiology of violent radical political behavior has begun to explore the role of empathy in shaping an individual’s beliefs, attitudes, and intentions that culminate in radicalization. The existing studies focus on persuasive influence upon an individual, but they overlook the centrality of empathy and that in the absence of empathy, persuasion is not salient. If an individual empathizes with a message then when it is processed by the receiver, the message is more likely to be considered realistic, relatable, believable, and therefore, persuasive. However, very little is known as to how messages should be designed to stimulate empathy in order to optimize their persuasive impact, which is particularly relevant to terrorist and extremist messaging given the lethal outcome of successful persuasion. This study examines the neurocognitive process of radicalization, specifically as it occurs within virtual online space, and how message content and production features have the potential to arouse empathy and generate radical-persuasive outcomes among the target audience. The findings of this research demonstrate how emotions, specifically that of empathy, can be stimulated in order to facilitate the process of radicalization, thus increasing the potential for violent radical political behavior.
Why Do Online Countering Violent Extremism Strategies Not Work? The Case of Digital Jihad
2022 Lakomy, M. Article
This article discusses the reasons why content moderation and control in cyberspace, being a primary means of online countering violent extremism (CVE), does not work as intended. It makes four main arguments. Firstly, despite years of efforts from CVE stakeholders, the propaganda of militant Islamist VEOs is still easily accessible on the Internet. This study has mapped hundreds of addresses engaged in digital jihadist activities at the turn of 2020–2021. It effectively proves that the current approach to online CVE brought few tangible effects. Secondly, these programs have been unevenly applied to militant Islamist organizations. There have been groups which represent violent extremist ideology but are not actively combated by stakeholders. As a result, these groups have been able to establish a solid foothold on the surface web. Thirdly, the efficiency of CVE strategies based on content takedowns are decreased by the relative ease of terrorists reestablishing banned communication channels, the availability of vast alternatives for online propaganda dissemination, the introduction of impractical legislation by governments, overlapping jurisdictions on the Internet and the “Streisand effect.” Finally, adequate strategies aimed at curbing digital jihad should be primarily based on offline and online activities which fall outside of the remit of CVE.
Examining incel subculture on Reddit
2022 Helm, B., Scrivens, R., Holt, T.J., Chermak, S. and Frank, R. Article
The online presence of incels, or involuntary celibates, has been an increasing security concern for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers in recent years, given that self-identified incels – including Alek Minassian and Elliot Rodger – used the Internet to disseminate incel ideology and manifestos prior to committing acts of violence. However, little is empirically known about the incel movement in general or their online communities in particular. The present study draws from a set of comments from r/Incels, a now defunct but once popular subreddit dedicated to the incel community, and compares the most highly-upvoted comments (n = 500) to a random set of other comments (n = 500) in the subreddit. This qualitative analysis focuses on identifying subcultural discourse that is widely supported and engaged with by members of the online community and the extent to which incels utilize this online space to reaffirm deviant behavior. Our study underscores the importance, as well as the difficulties, of drawing from online sources like web-forums to generate new knowledge on deviant communities and behaviors. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this analysis, its limitations, and avenues for future research.