Review of Social Science Literature on Radicalization to Assess Operational Utility for Open Source Social Media Research in the Interests of Prevention of Violent Extremism

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This 2014 paper reviewed relevant empirical social science studies to gain perspective on two questions: 1) Are there accepted risk factors or indicators that signal increasing radicalization on the pathway to violent extremism? and, 
2) If so, are any of these factors useful for social media monitoring and analytics from an “early warning” perspective? 

The assessment confirmed that violent extremists do not fit a general profile. There are key clusters of factors and processes on the road to radicalization, but the path is highly individual and impossible to predict. However, the findings also indicate that socialization into violence is an important factor. Therefore tracking online ties and shared “hallmark” content of VE groups has some potential utility. By extension, social media analytics can be useful to identify:  1) sub-cultures that encourage violence; 
2) online social networks that support the organization and coordination of, and recruitment to, 
violence; and, 
3)  shared “hallmark” content, including narratives that encourage and inspire groups and individuals to commit acts of violence. 

Overall, this paper flags certain broad indicators/risk factors that could merit further research for their utility for PVE. However, operationalization of these indicators would never be “generalizable” for all VE groups. Rather, they would require close contextual grounding in specific violent extremist communities. For many of these indicators – for example, those that deal with a specific narrative of grievance – operationalizing them into a social media monitoring framework could present difficult ethical considerations, depending on how it was done. The literature review helps to identify areas that merit further engagement and discussion – by academics, front-line communities, public safety and privacy officials, practitioners and advocates, as well as the general public. 

Ragheb Abdo, The SecDev Group