Who Matters Online: Measuring Influence, Evaluating Content and Countering Violent Extremism in Online Social Networks

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This 2013 article focuses on identifying and measuring the influence of extremist accounts on Twitter, assessing extremist content, and determining ways to counter violent extremism (CVE) in online social networks. In their study, the authors track the interactions of 12 American white supremacist seed accounts on Twitter, along with their followers. The authors also ran a comparison analysis using their methodology on a group of anarchist Twitter accounts. The authors devise a scoring system to identify which social media accounts are most influential within a specific extremist circle, and which accounts are most likely to be influenced.  The variables measured by their scoring system, measure “influence”, the ability to inspire a reaction from a second user, and “exposure”, when a user performs an action in response to another user. The metrics used by the authors identify users who are heavily engaged with extremist material online.

This article will be of particular interest to practitioners, researchers and scholars interested in utilizing social media to help counter and prevent violent extremism online. The authors offer a number of ways to concretely measure which types of CVE approaches are effective, and which are not. While the paper focuses on white supremacist accounts on Twitter, the authors believe that their methodology can be effectively applied, without modification, to any number of ideologies. The authors further make a number of recommendations for new Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) initiatives for both government and non-government organizations.

J.M. Berger and Bill Strathearn

March 2013