Understanding and Countering Online Behaviour

How is the internet used in recruitment, radicalisation and organisation of threats to national security? This Programme develops our understanding of the use of the internet in recruitment, radicalisation and organisation of threats to national security, as well as develop ways in which it can be harnessed to mitigate such threats. Led by Professor Adam Joinson at the University of Bath.

The work in this Programme is centered around understanding and shaping online behaviour in a security context. This work is focused on four strands, alongside inter-disciplinary work connecting networks, finance and online behaviour.

  • Radicalisation Online. Following the completion of an indepth review of the state of the art understanding of radicalisation and the internet, we will conduct studies that seek to identify patterns of increasing radicalisation through language and behaviour.
  • Digital Footprints. A systematic review is currently underway that will provide a complete summary and analysis of the current literature linking online behaviour to individual characteristics.
  • Shaping behaviour online. The focus of this strand is the development of markers to evaluate the impact of online interventions.
  • Interdisciplinary insights. Within this programme we are exploiting the inter-disciplinary nature of the project team (e.g. law, psychology, computer science) to explore ways to deepen our understanding of terrorist financial networks, financial fraud and blockchain, and computational analysis of behaviour (e.g. language and rapport).

Original research

The early focus of the programme was on synthesis of existing knowledge. This is now supplemented by original research. The topics for this work include:

  • Evaluating methods of online influence [Bath]
  • Studies of digital footprints and remote assessment of personality [Bath, Lancaster]
  • Language and engagement in ideological online forums [Bath]
  • Blockchain and trust [UWE / Bath]
  • Methods for characterising typical and atypical social media users [Bath]
  • Language and rapport [Lancaster / Bath].

Case study: Digital footprints

The idea of ‘behavioural residue’ has a long history in psychology, with the traces we leave behind in the physical and virtual environment providing clues to personality, socio-demographics and group and interpersonal dynamics such as agreement and rapport. In a security and intelligence context, being able to interpret the ‘residue’ subjects of interest ‘leave behind’ as they interact in virtual environments can provide important clues about their current state of wellbeing, stress levels, personality, likely responses to outside events, and the dynamics within a group. We are conducting a large scale systematic review to collate and evaluate the evidence-base for connecting digital footprints to individual characteristics, and will then conduct a series of studies to test the review insights in the laboratory.

Case study: Radicalisation and the internet

  • Radicalisation is a complex process that generally involves:
  • Perceived relative deprivation: Feeling unfairly disadvantaged compared to others
  • Resentment: Resenting others and seeking to improve situation
  • Blame: Blaming others for hardship and bonding with likeminded others
  • The violent act: Viewing violence as a necessary means to solve problems.

Propaganda disseminated online can attempt to strengthen these feelings. For example, social media and forums can help individuals to find new groups who can reinforce new ideas and even ‘groom’ new recruits. Anonymity can make it easier to deceive, manipulate and present ideologies in a more favourable light.

Principal Investigator

Professor Adam Joinson


University of Bath, UK
University of West England (UWE), UK
Lancaster University, UK



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