Exploring patterns of online recruitment among non-violent extremists in the UK aims to examine non-violent extremism across different ideologies to identify common recruitment strategies and ideological appeals online, in order to inform policy and practice and develop new risk assessment tools.
Online extremism has become one of the most pressing threats in the UK. Several violent episodes occurred over the last decade - mostly perpetrated by online self-radicalised individuals.
These individuals usually start their path towards violent extremism by accessing material posted by non-violent extremist groups who legally disseminate their ideas in the online space.& However, the online presence of non-violent groups is often neglected in favour of an almost exclusive focus on violent groups. Nonetheless, non-violent extremists hold the same ideology as their violent counter-parts and they can push individuals to violence.
This study responds to a call by academics and practitioners for more research on non-violent extremism, especially in the online space that has become a key battleground for extremist recruitment during the COVID pandemic. It is the first to examine non-violent extremism across different ideologies to identify common recruitment strategies and ideological appeals online.
This study answers the following main research questions:
In order to answer the research questions, three non-violent extremist groups were chosen as case studies, one for each ideology. The choice of the case studies was made taking into account their level of activity (both online and offline), support and membership across the UK, and longevity. The chosen case studies are CAGE (Islamists), Britain First (far right), and Earth First (eco-radicals).
This research focuses on relevant textual and audio-visual material publicly available on the groups’ official channels, such as their websites, social media profiles and blogs.
We are using mixed-method research design. Thematic analysis (qualitative method) will be used to analyse themes and contents emerging from the online data. Social media analysis (qualitative and quantitative) will be conducted using Nvivo, Facepager and Socnetv to analyse data from online platforms, i.e. social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), blogs and official websites of the groups under analysis.
More specifically, Nvivo, Facepager and Socnetv can assist the researchers to: identify specific topics on selected social media and websites; explore conversations to identify related topics and keywords; identify the number of mentions of a certain topic; identify the reactions of the public towards a specific post; conduct sentiment analysis for certain keywords (e.g. “jihad”, “great replacement”, “sustainability”); anonymously identify the demographics and the geographic profiles of respondents (gender, location, age, likes and interests); and identify influential authors in the conversations and their engagement with a specific group over time.
This research project plays a pivotal role in enhancing current knowledge on 'what happens before the bomb goes off' (Neumann, 2008). It sheds light on the diverse universe of non-violent but extreme groups and their activities in the online space which has served as a wide recruitment pool over the last few years.
Non-violent (or vocal) extremism was officially acknowledged by the Home Office as a serious threat in 2015 in line with other Western countries. Although vocal extremism sits at the top of security agendas worldwide, current research is still extremely focused on violent extremism and its expressions.
This project will be the first study to examine non-violent extremism across different ideologies to identify common recruitment strategies and ideological appeals online. Its results will be crucial to inform policy and practice and develop new risk assessment tools to identify people “at risk” in the online space.
The value of this project has already been acknowledged by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, which provided Dr Elisa Orofino (Investigator) and Dr William Allchorn (Co-Investigator) funds to carry out this research for two years.
This project also responds to the practitioners' call for more research in the Prevent area related to terrorism and extremism so that potential future offenders can be detected early and receive the adequate support to disengage from dangerous ideologies. Therefore, this project aims to enhance present knowledge of non-violent extremism and its alleged role as a conveyor belt to terrorism.
This project is ongoing (May 2022-April 2024).
Academic Lead for Extremism and Counter-Terrorism
Honorary Visiting Senior Fellow