Panel 10: Online dynamics

Chair: Ben Lee

LT1, Thursday 21st, 0900-1100

Jonathan Kenyon & Jens Binder

National Specialist Lead | HMPPS Interventions Services Counter Terrorism Team
Senior Lecturer | Nottingham Trent University

Exploring the Role of the Internet in Radicalisation and Offending of Convicted Extremists in England and Wales

Session: Panel 10: Online dynamics (LT1)

This study sets out to explore the role of the Internet in radicalisation pathways and risk levels of individuals convicted of extremist offences in England and Wales. A comprehensive database of 269 convicted extremists was developed by reviewing and coding content of specialist assessment reports by professionals with access to a range of restricted information sources and direct contact with those concerned. Cases were grouped based on whether they primarily radicalised online, offline or subject to influence in both domains. Central areas of investigation include whether the Internet plays a prominent role in radicalisation for convicted extremists, if those taking various radicalisation pathways utilise the Internet in different ways, if offender demographics and offence-type variables differ when pathways are compared, and whether pathway taken impacts on assessed levels of engagement with an extremist group or cause, along with assessed levels of intent and capability to perpetrate violent extremist acts. Findings suggest the Internet is playing an increasingly prominent role in radicalisation, with changes in use over time, along with variations in online activities depending on pathway taken. General profile and vulnerability factors differed between pathway groups, along with assessed levels of engagement, intent and capability to commit violent extremist acts. 

Co-authors: Dr Christopher Baker-Beall, Bournemouth University

Fatima Zahrah

PhD | University of Oxford

Investigating the Cross-Platform Behaviours of Online Hate Groups

Session: Panel 10: Online dynamics (LT1)

Online hate thrives globally through self-organized, scalable clusters that interconnect to form robust networks spread across multiple social-media platforms, countries and languages. Despite efforts from law-enforcement agencies and platform developers to limit such content, online hate is still being linked to several crimes around the world.

Previous research has generally focussed around one particular platform, even though there is sufficient evidence showing that hate groups often strategize the usage of different platforms in order to circumvent monitoring efforts.

This research aims to bridge this gap by investigating how online hate groups make use of multiple platforms to propagate hateful content. More specifically, it involves a cross-platform analysis of the behaviours of such hate groups in order to better understand networks of organised hate. This includes utilising various Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques to computationally analyse hateful content from platforms like Reddit and 4chan, using several case studies including the 2020 US Presidential Elections.

Through this, we provide comparison into the platform-specific behaviours of online hate, and how different platforms can serve specific purposes. The findings from this research will be used to inform more efficient hate analysis frameworks.

Co-authors: Dr. Jason R. C. Nurse, University of Kent, Professor Michael Goldsmith, University of Oxford


Keenan Jones

PhD | University of Kent

Understanding Online Hacktivist Groups: A Case Study on the Anonymous Collective

Session: Panel 10: Online dynamics (LT1)

The hacktivist group Anonymous is unusual in its public-facing nature. Unlike other cybercriminal groups, which rely on secrecy for protection, Anonymous is active on social media. Our research aims to analyse the presence of Twitter accounts affiliated with Anonymous, leveraging machine learning to identify a network of more than 33,000 Anonymous-affiliated accounts. We then conduct a series of computational analyses to assess the manner in which the group operates on Twitter, including social network analysis to examine the distribution of influence within this network – identifying a small group of highly influential accounts which runs counter to the group’s claims of leaderlessness. Our work also identifies a fragmentation within the network after the arrests of prominent members in 2011-2013, as well a massive resurgence in activity during the Black Lives Matter protests that occurred after the murder of George Floyd. We analyse this resurgence using bot-detection methods, finding indications of considerable bot-like behaviour from Anonymous accounts. In turn, our work provides an examination of the manner in which this prominent hacktivist group utilises social media, offering insights into their social structures and providing evidence indicating that bot-activity is leveraged to exaggerate the degree of support that the group garners.

Co-authors: Jason R. C. Nurse, University of Kent; Shujun Li, University of Kent

Joel Busher

Professor | Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations | Coventry University

Ideological radicalisation and tactical escalation during a wave of far right protest: A relational perspective

Session: Panel 10: Online dynamics (LT1)

The relationship between beliefs and action, or between ideology and behaviours, has been a focus of ongoing debate within the literature on radicalisation and political violence, with the literature often sharply divided between those who have emphasised the link, or even taken it for granted, and those who have downplayed it. Recently however there have been a number of attempts to reconcile these positions. This has entailed looking more closely at and seeking to specify the causal mechanisms through which ideological radicalisation can contribute to a move towards the use of (greater) violence. This paper contributes to these efforts. It does so by tracing how the rapid ideological radicalisation of the UK’s anti-minority protest scene around 2014-15 – with the collapse of the relatively ‘moderate’ English Defence League and the surge to prominence of groups that openly embraced white racial nationalism – shaped the dynamics of a wave of protests during 2014-16 that was characterised by increasingly violent confrontations between far right and anti-fascist activists, reaching their zenith in January 2016 in the port town of Dover.

Co-authors: Graham Macklin, Oslo University

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