Faces of radicalism: Differentiating between violent and non-violent radicals by their social media profiles

Michael Wolfowicz*, Simon Perry, Badi Hasisi, David Weisburd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objectives Social media platforms such as Facebook are used by both radicals and the security services that keep them under surveillance. However, only a small percentage of radicals go on to become terrorists and there is a worrying lack of evidence as to what types of online behaviors may differentiate terrorists from non-violent radicals. Most of the research to date uses text-based analysis to identify “radicals” only. In this study we sought to identify new social-media level behavioral metrics upon which it is possible to differentiate terrorists from non-violent radicals. Methods: Drawing on an established theoretical framework, Social Learning Theory, this study used a matched case-control design to compare the Facebook activities and interactions of 48 Palestinian terrorists in the 100 days prior to their attack with a 2:1 control group. Conditional-likelihood logistic regression was used to identify precise estimates, and a series of binomial logistic regression models were used to identify how well the variables classified between the groups. Findings: Variables from each of the social learning domains of differential associations, definitions, differential reinforcement, and imitation were found to be significant predictors of being a terrorist compared to a nonviolent radical. Models including these factors had a relatively high classification rate, and significantly reduced error over base-rate classification. Conclusions Behavioral level metrics derived from social learning theory should be considered as metrics upon which it may be possible to differentiate between terrorists and non-violent radicals based on their social media profiles. These metrics may also serve to support textbased analysis and vice versa.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number106646
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Volume116
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd

Keywords

  • Case-control
  • Internet
  • Social-learning theory
  • Social-media
  • Terrorism

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