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An Assessment of Extremist Groups Use of Web Forums, Social Media, and Technology to Enculturate and Radicalize Individuals to Violence

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2014, $585,719)

There is currently limited knowledge of the role of technology and computer mediated communications (CMCs), such as Facebook and Twitter, in the dissemination of messages that promote extremist agendas and radicalize individuals to violence. The proposed study will address this gap through a series of qualitative and quantitative analyses of posts from various forms of CMC used by members of both the far-right and Islamic extremist movements.
We will collect posts made in four active forums used by members of the far-right and three from the Islamic Extremist community, as well as posts made in Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, YouTube, and Pastebin accounts used by members of each movement. The content appearing across all of these sites will be imported into the qualitative software package NVivo and coded using techniques derived from grounded theory methods. The findings will be used to document both the prevalence and variation in the ideological content of posts from members of each movement. In addition, we will assess the value of these messages in the social status of the individual posting the message and the function of radical messages in the larger on-line identity of participants in extremist communities generally. We will also engage in a qualitative analysis of the use of technology by members of each movement to assess the scope of technological skill and variations in access to computers and the Internet within and across groups.
Social network analyses will be conducted using Pajeck software to identify the hidden networks of individuals who engage in extremist movements based on geographic location and ideological similarities. We will also assess the effect that ideological message creation and promotion has on an individual's position within a network and the movement generally.
Finally, we will use incidents of violence and failed plots over the last four years from the Extremist Crime Database to identify patterns of communication in various forms of CMC. This analysis will assess both the volume of posts and the nature of content during the 90 days prior to and after these violent acts are committed. The findings from the proposed study will be developed into multiple manuscripts for submission to criminology and practitioner journals. A webinar will also be created for delivery to the general public, and developed into presentations to practitioner audiences at conferences across the US. All data will also be prepared for archiving through ICPSR and NACJD.

Date Created: September 14, 2014