The joint project conducts applied and fundamental intedisciplinary research on the dynamics and escalation of extremist interactions in social online networks.
Project duration 02/2017 to 02/2020, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
Public internet forums, chats and instant messaging services have gained in relevance for individual and collective dynamics of radicalization. Studies of extremist and politically motivated criminal and terrorist acts show that social online platforms and online services such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or Tumblr, WhatsApp, Telegram or Twitter play a substantial role in the dissemination of extremist content. Further, they are instrumental for the mobilization and recruitment of followers of, for example, right-wing extremist and islamist-jihadist ideologies.
Embedded in virtual groups and platforms, radicalizing individuals and groups do not only organize to carry out spontaneous acts of crime and terror, but do also plan longer-term engagements. Consequently, social online networks and services are instrumental for embedding and providing momentum to processes of both social and political polarization and radicalization.
X-SONAR seeks to gain insights into
- the production, passing on and reception of politically, socially and religiously-biaised content of extremist groups as well as the promotion and inciting of politically-moticated criminal acts in online networks, blogs and forums (top-down radicalization);
- processes of group formation, polarization and escalation in virtual spaces that kick in in the aftermath of incidents or trigger events and that become relevant for criminal acts later on (bottom-up radicalization);
- processes by which users take over group-focused enmity and extremist contents as a way to manage self-information, but also to build and strengthen social relations and their own identityin the run-up to criminal acts (individual online-radicalization);
- the perception of and reaction to radical content, propaganda and attempts of recruitment by the wider online community (escalation dynamics and regulative mechanisms).
Concretely, X-SONAR empirically analyzes the interconnection and referentiality of radicalization processes, from discourses hate speech and group-focused enmity to the preparation and conductin fo criminal acts. It aims to identify patterns, mechanisms and phases of radicalization at the meso and micro levels and, based on these, to develop operative indicators for early warning and dynamic risk assessment. In close collaboration with end users from prosecution offices (federal and state criminal offices) and civil society (media protection, youth prevention and counselling services, educational staff and psychologists) and based on scientific results, the joint project will develop and test a software-based instrument for threat management and risk assessment in virtual contexts. Particularly in regard to the work of police services, the software is expected to assist with the identification of relevant communication on the preparation of criminal acts to inform threat assessments (e.g. related to the construction of asylum homes or in view of the formation of new, radical groups, etc.).
For greater impact and sustainability, the results gained and knowledge developed in the course of the project will be codified in training modules and integrated into an interactive learning platform (blended-learning approach) that addresses end users from different institutions (prosecution, prevention, education).