A Tale Of Two Caliphates: Comparing the Islamic State's Internal and External Messaging Priorities
Violent Extremism and Terrorism Online in 2017: The Year in Review
Multimodal Classification of Violent Online Political Extremism Content with Graph Convolutional Networks
Literature Review: The Impact of Digital Communications Technology on Radicalisation and Recruitment
Online as the New Frontline: Affect, Gender, and ISIS-Take-Down on Social Media
This research was produced with the aid of VOX-Pol Research Mobility Programme funding and supervision by VOX-Pol colleagues at Dublin City University.
Disrupting Daesh: Measuring Takedown of Online Terrorist Material and its Impacts
Terrorist Use of the Internet by the Numbers: Quantifying Behaviors, Patterns, and Processes
This article is a revised and updated version of the 2015 VOX-Pol report 'What are the Roles of the Internet In Terrorism? Measuring Online Behaviors of Convicted UK Terrorists.'
Online Jihadi Instructional Content: The Role of Magazines
Research Perspectives on Online Radicalisation: A Literature Review 2006–2016
• In recent years, the overwhelming focus of this avenue of research has been on the global jihad movement. This is therefore reflected in the review, but an effort has also been made to highlight similar research on other movements;
• As with the wider debate on radicalisation, there is little agreement on what constitutes online radicalisation and how, if at all, it happens. The influence of online interactions and propaganda on processes of radicalisation therefore remains a highly contested subject. It is a topic that has produced a broad swathe of literature, using different methodologies from a variety of disciplines;
• Consensus is that the Internet alone is not a cause of radicalisation, but a facilitator and catalyser of an individual’s trajectory towards violent political acts; • Use of empirical evidence to draw convincing conclusions remains scarce, and this has negatively impacted on the strength of research on this topic. Nonetheless, the exponential rise in violent extremist use of social media platforms has been the catalyst for an increase in research on the topic, and has begun to provide researchers with new forms of primary source data;
• Extremist use of the Internet has rapidly evolved and effectively adapted to a constantly shifting online media environment. Indeed, organisations – both public and private – that seek to respond to this are still playing catch-up, and have yet to mount a convincing response;
• One of the most celebrated aspects of social media – its ability to tailor content that appears on users’ feeds that appeals to their specific values and interests and plugs them into networks of like-minded individuals – is also what makes it a key asset for extremist groups. Both in the physical and virtual realm, such groups rely heavily upon isolating potential recruits from views and opinions that diverge from their prevailing ideologies and narratives. Extremists seek to insert people into echo chambers that amplify their message and suppress any contrary opinions. Thus, by its very nature, social media creates for its users an environment that, in some cases, is conducive to radicalisation. This is neither a criticism of social media companies nor a call for them to fundamentally change the services they provide, but rather a comment on the complexity of the challenge of online radicalisation;
• While some analysts and scholars call for measures such as censorship, others argue that softer approaches, such as creating online so-called ‘counter-narratives’ and educating Internet users, would be more effective. However, it is clear that there remains both a lack of understanding of how this would occur, or how such narratives could be effectively disseminated. While very few studies provide a convincing explanation of either, there are signs that a more sophisticated approach is beginning to take shape.
Determining The Role Of The Internet In Violent Extremism And Terrorism Six Suggestions For Progressing Research
Future Trends: Live-streaming Terrorist Attacks
Online Behaviours of Convicted Terrorists
Violent Extremism and Terrorism Online In 2016: The Year In Review
Check the Web - Assessing the Ethics and Politics of Policing the Internet for Extremist Material
the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – whilst not conducting a legal analysis. It draws where appropriate upon interpretations by the UN Human Rights Committee, UN experts (such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and special mandate holders), and regional human rights bodies and courts (such as the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights). The report looks at definitions of ‘extremist material’; the types of monitoring and blocking being undertaken by government agencies and the private sector; and considers the roles of these key stakeholders, along with private individuals and civil society groups. It is based on a two-day workshop in January 2015 with thirty expert stakeholders from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, governments and parliaments, civil society, and universities. Short versions of ten papers were presented to stimulate discussion, following an open call for extended abstracts. These are available on the VOX-Pol website: https://www.voxpol.eu/.
The authors conducted seven follow-up semi-structured interviews with stakeholders from law enforcement, industry, government and civil society; and background policy analysis. The first author also co-organised a workshop on privacy and online policing with the UK’s National Crime Agency in March 2015, and participated in three further workshops where the topics of this report were addressed: two on law enforcement use of communications data, and a third at the United Nations on the relationship between encryption and freedom of expression. Both authors are grateful for the assistance of interviewees, co-organisers, and workshop participants.
The report is produced by the EU-funded VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, and takes particular account of the network’s development of semi-automated search for violent online extremist content and deployment of available tools for search and analytics, including text, video, sentiment, etc., currently employed in other domains for analysis of violent online extremist content. The network’s focus 6 CHECK THE WEB is on making these tools freely available for research purposes to academics, but may also extend to others professionally tasked in this area (such as activists and law enforcement agencies). It is also centrally concerned with the ethical aspects of deployment of such tools and technologies.
What are the Roles of the Internet In Terrorism? Measuring Online Behaviors of Convicted UK Terrorists
In recent years, the media department of the self-proclaimed Islamic State has proven itself to be highly adept at strategic communication. While much research has gone into the group’s digital and online capabilities, there remains a significant gap in the knowledge regarding its in-country propaganda operations and objectives. In recognition of this, the following research paper approaches the issue from a different angle, attempting to better understand how and why the group communicates its brand through the lens of two publications – al-Naba’, its Arabic-language newspaper, which appears to be designed primarily for offline dissemination in the caliphate itself, and Rumiyah, its foreign-language electronic magazine, which has only ever appeared online. Using content analysis to identify and compare each publication’s internal (local) and external (global) media priorities over the four-month period between September and December 2016, we develop an empirical evaluation of the group’s recent forays into targeted outreach.
The use of the Internet, particularly social media, by violent extremists and terrorists and their supporters received an increasing amount of attention from policymakers, media, Internet companies, and civil society organisations in 2017. In addition to politicians stepping-up their rhetoric regarding the threat posed by consumption of and networking around violent extremist and terrorist online content, prominent and heavily trafficked social media platforms also took a stronger stand on the issue this year, which caused civil liberties organisations considerable disquiet. This report treats developments in the violent extremist and terrorist online scene(s) and responses to them in the 12-month period from 1 December 2016 to 30 November 2017.
In this paper we present a multimodal approach to categorizing user posts based on their discussion topic. To integrate heterogeneous information extracted from the posts, i.e. text, visual content and the information about user interactions with the online platform, we deploy graph convolutional networks that were recently proven effective in classification tasks on knowledge graphs. As the case study we use the analysis of violent online political extremism content, a challenging task due to a particularly high semantic level at which extremist ideas are discussed. Here we demonstrate the potential of using neural networks on graphs for classifying multimedia content and, perhaps more importantly, the effectiveness of multimedia analysis techniques in aiding the domain experts performing qualitative data analysis. Our conclusions are supported by extensive experiments on a large collection of extremist posts. This research was produced with the aid of VOX-Pol Research Mobility Programme funding and supervision by VOX-Pol colleagues at Dublin City University.
This literature review seeks to reorient the discourse on radicalization to consider the connection between communication technology and violent extremism. By interrogating three central questions vexing policy-makers, law enforcement officials and academics, this review moves away from a monolithic understanding of the internet and showcases the opportunities afforded by different communications technologies within the context of radicalization and recruitment. As this discussion shows, there is a consensus that despite significant exceptions to the rule, the internet alone does not act as a radicalizing agent, but rather serves as a facilitator and catalyst for terrorist organizations and their respective networks. Despite varying analyses produced within the literature, there is agreement that the virtual sphere does not replace the real world in most instances. Above all, a review of the current literature demonstrates that to answer the crucial questions posed in this article, more empirically-based research is required. This article is a revised and updated version of the 2017 VOX-Pol report Research Perspectives on Online Radicalisation: A Literature Review 2006 to 2016.
Using a dataset of more than 80 accounts during 2015, this article explores the gendered ways in which self-proclaiming Twitter Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters construct community around “suspension.” The article argues that suspension is an integral event in the online lives of ISIS supporters, which is reproduced in online identities. The highly gendered roles of ISIS males and females frame responses to suspension, enforcing norms that benefit the group: the shaming of men into battle and policing of women into modesty. Both male and female members of “Wilayat Twitter” regard online as a frontline, with suspension an act of war against the “baqiya family.” The findings have implications for broader repressive measures against ISIS online.
This report seeks to contribute to public and policy debates on the value of social media disruption activity with respect to terrorist material. We look in particular at aggressive account and content takedown, with the aim of accurately measuring this activity and its impacts. Our findings challenge the notion that Twitter remains a conducive space for Islamic State (IS) accounts and communities to flourish, although IS continues to distribute propaganda through this channel. However, not all jihadists on Twitter are subject to the same high levels of disruption as IS, and we show that there is differential disruption taking place. IS’s and other jihadists’ online activity was never solely restricted to Twitter. Twitter is just one node in a wider jihadist social media ecology. We describe and discuss this, and supply some preliminary analysis of disruption trends in this area.
Public interest and policy debates surrounding the role of the Internet in terrorist activities is increasing. Criminology has said very little on the matter. By using a unique data set of 223 convicted United Kingdom–based terrorists, this article focuses on how they used the Internet in the commission of their crimes. As most samples of terrorist offenders vary in terms of capabilities (lone-actor vs. group offenders) and criminal sophistication (improvised explosive devices vs. stabbings), we tested whether the affordances they sought from the Internet significantly differed. The results suggest that extreme-right-wing individuals, those who planned an attack (as opposed to merely providing material support), conducted a lethal attack, committed an improvised explosive device (IED) attack, committed an armed assault, acted within a cell, attempted to recruit others, and engaged in non-virtual network activities and non-virtual place interactions were significantly more likely to learn online compared with those who did not engage in these behaviours. Those undertaking unarmed assaults were significantly less likely to display online learning. The results also suggested that extreme-right-wing individuals who perpetrated an IED attack, associated with a wider network, attempted to recruit others, and engaged in non-virtual network activities and non-virtual place interactions were significantly more likely to communicate online with co-ideologues.
This chapter focuses on the instructional content, both text and images, published in 26 issues of three jihadi magazines: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire, Inspire’s forerunner Jihad Recollections, and Somali Al-Shabab’s Gaidi M’taani. Instruction was found to be a core component of Inspire as distinct from the varying types and levels of instruction appearing in Jihad Recollections and Gaidi M’taani. Noticeable too was that the text and images composing bomb-making instructional guides were not only the commonest, but also the most detailed types of guides contained in Inspire, with both a high number of images and lengthy supporting text. A clear finding is thus that the purpose of AQAP’s Inspire was not just to inspire readers, in the sense of infusing them with some thought or feeling, but also to supply them with instructions on how these thoughts or feelings could be violently actuated.
This literature review seeks to recalibrate our understanding of online radicalisation, how it is conceptualised within the literature and the extent to which the policy debate has advanced in response to technological and legal developments. Among the findings are the following:
Some scholars and others are sceptical of a significant role for the Internet in processes of violent radicalisation. There is increasing concern on the part of other scholars, and increasingly also policymakers and publics, that easy availability of violent extremist content online may have violent radicalising effects. This article identifies a number of core questions regarding the interaction of violent extremism and terrorism and the Internet, particularly social media, that have yet to be adequately addressed and supplies a series of six follow-up suggestions, flowing from these questions, for progressing research in this area. These suggestions relate to (1) widening the range of types of violent online extremism being studied beyond violent jihadis; (2) engaging in more comparative research, not just across ideologies, but also groups, countries, languages, and social media platforms; (3) deepening our analyses to include interviewing and virtual ethnographic approaches; (4) up-scaling or improving our capacity to undertake “big data” collection and analysis; (5) outreaching beyond terrorism studies to become acquainted with, for example, the Internet Studies literature and engaging in interdisciplinary research with, for example, computer scientists; and (6) paying more attention to gender as a factor in violent online extremism. This research was produced with the aid of VOX-Pol Research Mobility Programme funding and supervision by VOX-Pol colleagues at Dublin City University.
Magnanville, 13 June, 2016, around 8pm: policeman, Jean-Baptiste Salvaing has been stabbed to death outside his home. Forcing his way into the house, the attacker murders Jessica Schneider, who also worked for the police, by cutting her throat. The couple’s three year-old son is taken hostage by the killer, Larossi Abballa. Prior to a three hour stand-off with police negotiators, Aballa turns to social media to broadcast and justify his actions, dedicating them to his ‘Emir’ Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi (Hume et al 2016). It is the first time a terrorist has used a live-streaming service in the midst of an attack. It is unlikely to be the last.
Previous research on terrorist use of the Internet generally discusses the opportunities offered by the Internet to terrorist groups (Tsfati & Weimann, 2002; Weimann, 2006; Holt et al., 2015; Rudner, 2016). Such accounts implicitly view the interaction between the Internet and the user as uni-directional (i.e. exposure to Internet content may cause behaviour change). This lacks an acknowledgement that not every potential user will make use available opportunities, nor use these in the same way. The degree to which an individual makes use of an opportunity is modulated based upon their goals, plans, values, beliefs, and experiences (Norman, 1988). At present, there are only three data-driven studies examining how convicted terrorists have used the Internet: Von Behr et al., 2013, Gill et al., 2014, and Gill and Corner 2015. These studies shift the focus from the Internet as a potentially causal factor to how individuals use the Internet based upon their motivations, needs, expectations, and histories. They acknowledge, in other words, the way in which the interaction between Internet and user is a two-way person-situation interactive process in which the individual leads the way. Reported herein are two complementary pieces of research, one large scale and based on open source data and another smaller scale and based on closed sources, that build significantly upon the above described research.
The use of the Internet, including social media, by violent extremists and terrorists and their supporters has been a source of anxiety for policymakers and publics for a number of years. This is based on the idea that there is a connection between consumption of and networking around violent extremist and terrorist online content and adoption of extremist ideology (i.e. so-called ‘online radicalisation’) and/or recruitment into violent extremist or terrorist groups or movements and/or attack planning and preparation and/or, ultimately, engagement in violent extremism and terrorism. Concerns have been raised, in particular, regarding easy access to large volumes of potentially influencing violent extremist and terrorist content on prominent and heavily trafficked social media platforms.
This report assesses the ethics and politics of policing online extremist material, using the normative framework of international human rights law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European Convention on Human Rights and
Using a unique dataset of 227 convicted UK-based terrorists, this report fills a large gap in the existing literature. Using descriptive statistics, we first outline the degree to which various online activities related to radicalisation were present within the sample. The results illustrate the variance in behaviours often attributed to ‘online radicalisation’. Second, we conducted a smallest-space analysis to illustrate two clusters of commonly co-occurring behaviours that delineate behaviours from those directly associated with attack planning. Third, we conduct a series of bivariate and multivariate analyses to question whether those who interact virtually with like-minded individuals or learn online, exhibit markedly different experiences (e.g. radicalisation, event preparation, attack outcomes) than those who do not.