Panel 3: Offline, online and digital disruptions

Chair: Iain Reid

LT 2&3, Tuesday 19th, 1530-1730


Neil Verrall

Senior Principal Psychologist | DSTL

Future Threats from Disinformation: Risks and Challenges

Session: Panel 3: Offline, online and digital disruptions (LT2)

The presentation will describe some of the potential ways in which disinformation will evolve in the future – as a function of changes in technology and society. Fifteen threat trends are identified, which will have the potential to either help or hinder both threat actors and governments, i.e. what works for me, works against my opponent. Therefore, the risk is how, and indeed ‘if’, future governments decide to address the impact of predicted changes in society and technology, and whether to, and how to, mitigate the potential applications of these by a range of threat actors.

The future of disinformation is set against the backdrop of what is soon to become human history’s first ‘information civilization’, which will be influenced by two major factors: (1) global issues such as population growth, migration and the environment; and (2) a post-digital society, concerning issues such as connectivity, digitalisation, digital human rights, digital economies and digital governance.

The future of disinformation is important to understand because of its enduring role within a future information civilization and the increased potential for information confrontation and information disorder among future generations; thereby leading to increased national and global security threats.

Laura G. E. Smith

Reader in Psychology | University of Bath

Harnessing and Disrupting Group Processes Online

Session: Panel 3: Offline, online and digital disruptions (LT2)

We outline a model of online group behaviour that explains how and why online interactions influence group-based threats. Leveraging two systematic reviews, we integrate two knowledge bases — empirical research into online group-based behaviour and the breadth of theoretical perspectives in social psychology. They bring into sharp relief the social psychological reality of online behaviour and the utility of existing theoretical frameworks (and methods) to explain that reality. This integration enables us to provide a conceptual and methodological map to facilitate the harnessing and disruption of group processes online. In Study 1, we synthesise the results of 144 studies that drew upon 85 psychological theories to explain online group behaviour (N = 25,026; including 863,105 digital observations). Social identity approaches were cited most frequently. In Study 2, we synthesise the results of 311 studies that tested social identity propositions (N = 114,282; including 22,651,255 digital observations). Results indicated that social identities affect online behaviour both when those pre-existing identities are salient, and when online interactions lead to the development of new group identifications. We highlight entry points for interventions that could harness and disrupt online group processes, and suggest a research agenda and best-practice guidelines.

Co-authors: Brittany I. Davidson, Eric J. Manalastas, Daniella Hult Khazaie, Catherine Lowery

Clara Braun

Junior Research Associate | NCITE | University of Nebraska at Omaha

Digital Roles and the Performance of Extremists

Session: Panel 3: Offline, online and digital disruptions (LT2)

The online access to extremist materials and recruitment networking has become a widespread and collective concern in the last decade. Extremists worldwide can search for content that fits their expressed ideological narrative through various digital formats or through social media interactions with like-minded individuals. These digital interactions vary in method and breadth. While some extremists are interested in watching violent and graphic videos, others are producing their own propaganda in support of extremist groups like The Base, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the Oath Keepers. We provide a comparison of international and domestic extremists’ online behaviors across a spectrum increasing in both ideological devotion and computational skill. Our research will present case studies of individuals who engaged in collection behaviors (for the purposes of sharing congregated extremist content with others), those who posted on social media and shared extremist content on both public and private platforms, and those who created extremist content in the form of videos, instruction manuals, and manifestos. We will conclude by discussing implications for the future of national security both within the United States and internationally.

Co-authors: Gina Ligon and Elizabeth Bender, NCITE

Paul Taylor

Senior Principal Psychologist | DSTL

Disrupting groups: Methods and Measures of Effectiveness

Session: Panel 3: Offline, online and digital disruptions (LT2)

In 2012, we laid out hypotheses for how individual, group, and organisation-level intervention could shape the instrumental, relational and identity dynamics of a terrorist group, and thus affect their functioning. In this presentation we update our knowledge base against these hypotheses, drawing on experimental, simulation, and field-based studies conducted in the interim. Collectively these studies provide insights into not only the input (e.g., team constitution) and output (e.g., team performance) correlations, but also the mechanisms that mediate the effects of interventions.  We find: (1) process interventions such as introducing misinformation or creating friction in relationships has a greater impact on performance than structural interventions such as removing a leader; (2) individual psychology has no significant bearing on group performance and response, with expertise being a more important factor; (3) established relationships recover from interventions in a more robust way compared to newly formed teams; and (4) language metrics provide a useful though weak signal by which to judge risk. We conclude by discussing the importance of finding a paradigm that embraces the longitudinal nature of group formation and growth, and the value these data have in informing practice.

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