Workshop: Behavioural Underpinnings of Violent Online Political Extremism (December 2 – 3, 2014, Berlin)

This workshop will revolve around ongoing VOX-Pol funded research being carried out at University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science. Over the past few years, a number of concerns have been raised about the nature of the Internet’s relationship with terrorism. Despite these growing concerns, both literatures have lacked somewhat an empirical focus.The tendency to focus upon theory-building and illustrative examples means that we lack an understanding of how generalisable aspects of both concerns tend to be. Instead what we are left with is a series of disjointed anecdotes (some rigorously researched, others not), with very little attempt at testing explanations or predictions or replicating previous case studies. As an increasing number of studies argue that the so-called rise of self-starter terrorism is linked to the Internet (Feldman, 2013), it is important to take a closer look at what role it actually plays, if any.

This workshop will outline preliminary results based on a data collection effort of convicted Al-Qaeda related offenders. It investigates whether those who interact virtually with like-minded activists or who learn online display markedly different experiences (e.g. radicalisation, event preparation and attack outcomes) than those who do not. The key findings from the statistical analysis will be presented alongside illustrative examples from first-hand interviews. Finally, the workshop examines how some of these actors have used the Internet to overcome the difficulties inherent in committing a terrorist offence absent the logistical support network and expertise of a terrorist organisation. The aim of the workshop is to (a) present these preliminary findings to a practitioner community and (b) obtain feedback from practitioners regarding where future research on this topic could provide utility for their day-to-day decision-making and understanding.