Panel 6: Online-offline movements & subcultures

Chair: Rachel Monaghan

LT 2&3, Wednesday 20th, 0900-1100

Ben Lee

Senior Research Associate | University of St Andrew

Terror, Politics, or Fun: Siege (Sub)Culture in the UK

Session: Panel 6: Online-offline movements & subcultures (LT2)

Subcultures are parallel cultures that exist outside mainstream norms and values. They have been interpreted as being criminogenic spaces, sites of working-class resistance, and apolitical venues for entertainment and self-expression. Terrorism research has explored subcultural theory as an explanation for individual radicalisation, and to a lesser extent to explain some of the wider appeal of extremist subcultures. Nevertheless, terrorism and extremism are usually viewed through a security lens rather than a cultural one; the entertainment and aesthetic value of extremist subcultures are overlooked in favour of ideological and strategic factors.

This paper offers a different perspective, applying taste-based models of subculture to a case study of Siege Culture, an extreme manifestation of fascism, in the UK. Taking this perspective demonstrates that Siege Culture offers protagonists far more than revolutionary violence and includes examples of fiction, art, music, norms and values that cater to those that believe themselves completely outside mainstream culture. The breadth of this appeal, combined with an overall low level of violence, suggests that Siege Culture in the UK was as much a subcultural phenomenon as a terrorist one. These findings suggest that the future management of extremism will require an understanding of the subcultural dynamics of different subcultures.

Co-authors: Sarah Marsden, University of St Andrews


Olivia Brown

Assistant Professor | University of Bath

Right-wing extremism in online spaces - can we use digital data to predict offline action?

Session: Panel 6: Online-offline movements & subcultures (LT2)

The Internet is playing a key role in the growth of right-wing terrorism, with online forums and social networking sites providing on opportunity for individuals to acquire ideology, recruit new members and plan attacks. While right-wing extremist content online is increasing, questions remain as to whether there are specific markers of online behaviour that can be used to infer risk. The current study addresses this question, by comparing the online postings of individuals who have been convicted of a terrorism offence and those who have not. We obtained a sample of publicly available online postings and meta-data that could be matched to individuals from their online aliases. Our sample includes 200,000 posts across three far-right forums from 26 convicted and 54 non-convicted individuals. In step one of our analysis, we conducted a qualitative content analysis on a sub-sample of the postings and identified significant differences in the content of posts according to conviction status. In step two of our analysis, we have utilised computational methods to predict conviction status based on the textual content of messages. Findings offer important insight into the link between online behaviour and offline extremist action and will be used to help inform effective prioritisation strategies in the monitoring of online material.

Co-authors: Professor Adam Joinson, Dr Laura Smith, Dr Brit Davidson


Lukasz Piwek

Senior Lecturer in Data Science | University of Bath

Digital Traces of Offline Mobilization

Session: Panel 6: Online-offline movements & subcultures (LT2)

It is unclear when, how, and why online activity is related to the mobilization of offline action. Across two studies, we used digital traces of online behavior and data science techniques to model people’s online and offline behavior around a mass protest event. In Study 1, we used Twitter behavior posted on the day of the protest by attendees or non-attendees (759 users; 7,592 tweets) to train and test a classifier that predicted, with 80% accuracy, who participated in offline action. Attendees tended to be co-present online and offline, and used their mobile devices to broadcast their offline presence and plan logistics.

In Study 2, using the longitudinal Twitter data and metadata of a subset of users from Study 1 (209 users; 277,556 tweets), we found that participation in the offline event was positively associated with the relative magnitude of an individual’s online polarization over the year prior to the event, and their online social connectedness. These studies provide an empirical demonstration of the features of online interactions that predict offline action; new methodological approaches that connect online behavior with offline action, including a novel equation that indexes online polarization, and two algorithms that could inform emergency responses.

Using these new methods, we explain how studying online behavior enables novel conceptual insights into how, why, and when people mobilize to take offline action.

Co-authors: Dr. Laura Smith, Dr. Joanne Hinds, Dr. Olivia Brown, Professor Adam Joinson, University of Bath


Olivia Brown

Assistant Professor | University of Bath

How opposing ideological groups use the content and function of online interactions to mobilise collective action

Session: Panel 6: Online-offline movements & subcultures (LT2)

The purpose of this pre-registered study was to investigate how different ideological groups justified and mobilised collective action online. We collected 6,878 posts from the social media accounts of pro Black Lives Matter (n = 13) and anti-Black Lives Matter (n = 9) groups who promoted collective action in the month after George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and counter-protests. We used content analysis and natural language processing to analyse the content and psychological function of the posts. We found that both groups perceived their action as “system-challenging”, with pro-BLM accounts focused more (than anti-BLM accounts) on outgroup actions to mobilise collective action, and anti-BLM accounts focused more on ingroup identity. The reverse pattern occurred when the accounts were attempting to justify action. The implications are that groups’ ideology and socio-structural position should be considered to understand differences in how and why groups mobilise through online interactions.

Co-authors: Laura G. E. Smith

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