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Triggered by Defeat or Victory? Assessing the Impact of Presidential Election Results on Extreme Right-Wing Mobilization Online

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The theoretical literature from criminology, social movements, and political sociology, among others, includes diverging views about how political outcomes could affect movements. Many theories argue that political defeats motivate the losing side to increase their mobilization while other established models claim the winning side may feel encouraged and thus increase their mobilization. We examine these diverging perspectives in the context of the extreme right online and recent presidential elections by measuring the effect of the 2008 and 2016 election victories of Obama and Trump on the volume of postings on the largest white supremacy web-forum. ARIMA time series using intervention modeling showed a significant and sizable increase in the total number of posts and right-wing extremist posts but no significant change for firearm posts in either election year. However, the volume of postings for all impact measures was highest for the 2008 election.
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Triggered by Defeat or Victory? Assessing the Impact of Presidential Election Results on
Extreme Right-Wing Mobilization Online
Ryan Scrivens, George W. Burruss, Thomas J. Holt, Steven M. Chermak, Joshua D. Freilich, and
Richard Frank
Abstract
The theoretical literature from criminology, social movements, and political sociology, among
others, includes diverging views about how political outcomes could affect movements. Many
theories argue that political defeats motivate the losing side to increase their mobilization while
other established models claim the winning side may feel encouraged and thus increase their
mobilization. We examine these diverging perspectives in the context of the extreme right online
and recent presidential elections by measuring the effect of the 2008 and 2016 election victories
of Obama and Trump on the volume of postings on the largest white supremacy web-forum.
ARIMA time series using intervention modeling showed a significant and sizable increase in the
total number of posts and right-wing extremist posts but no significant change for firearm posts
in either election year. However, the volume of postings for all impact measures was highest for
the 2008 election.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
2
Introduction
This study examines the impact of recent presidential election results in the United States (U.S.)
on the extreme right’s online activity. Two of the most recent U.S. presidential elections provide
an ideal opportunity to consider whether either Barack Obama or Donald Trump’s victory
mobilized right-wing extremists (RWEs) in similar or different ways.
1
On one hand, some might
expect that the election of the first African American president in 2008 would increase extreme
right-wing mobilization due to political deprivation. President Obama’s election was a major
political defeat for those with far-right views (see Parker and Baretto 2013) and indeed those
with extreme right-wing views, including gun rights (Mills 2019; Simi and Futrell 2015), and it
should have outraged them and spurred them to protest and increase their activities. In 2016,
however, the extreme right enjoyed a major political victory with the election of Donald Trump
(Anti-Defamation League 2018; Futrell and Simi 2017). Trump’s platform – especially on
immigration and gun policies – resonated with them and thus might have further encouraged
extreme rightists to mobilize in response. These two elections provide an ideal opportunity to
explore how political deprivation and political encouragement impact the mobilization of the
extreme right. Specifically, we explore whether the largest RWE forum saw increased activity
after the 2008 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
Williams (2009) explained that racist paranoia increased dramatically after the election of
Obama, and this hate and paranoia spread through online discussion forums. Researchers also
1
Following Berger (2018a), we are guided by the view that RWEslike all extremistsstructure their beliefs on
the basis that the success and survival of the in-group is inseparable from the negative acts of an out-group and, in
turn, they are willing to assume both an offensive and defensive stance in the name of the success and survival of the
in-group (Berger 2018a). Right-wing extremism is thus defined as a racially, ethnically, and/or sexually defined
nationalism, which is typically framed in terms of white power and/or white identity (i.e., the in-group) that is
grounded in xenophobic and exclusionary understandings of the perceived threats posed by some combination of
non-whites, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, members of the LGBTQ community, and feminists (i.e., the out-
group(s)) (Conway, Scrivens, and Macnair 2019). Right-wing extremism and similar terms, such as ‘extreme right-
wing’, the ‘extreme right’, and ‘extreme rightists’ are used interchangeably throughout the paper.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
3
uncovered a spike in posting activity on Stormfront, the oldest and most visited white supremacy
forum (Hankes and Zhang 2017), as well as hostile discourse in other RWE digital spaces (Sela,
Kuflik, and Mesch 2012) in response to Obama’s election victory. Additionally, a rise in hate
crimes was observed in the U.S. following the election results in 2008 with hundreds of incidents
of intimidation and abuse (Bigg 2008). The ascension of Donald Trump as a presidential
candidate was similarly linked with an increase in extremist postings as the language used in his
campaign resonated with RWEs (Berger 2016). In fact, Stormfront, amongst other extreme-right
wing platforms, experienced a surge in online traffic during the 2016 election season, with users
expressing support for Trump’s political campaign (Schrekinger 2015). Yet while Trump’s
presidential campaign and subsequent victory did not cause RWEs to emerge (Inwood 2019), his
anti-immigrant campaign encouraged adherents to openly preach and practice racist hate, both on
and offline (Simi and Futrell 2017). Anti-hate watch-group groups, for example, documented
more than 800 reports of hate crimes in the first few weeks following Trump’s election win
(Potok 2017). After Trump’s election victory, RWE actors discussed their perceived win both
on- and offline (Anti-Defamation League 2018; Futrell and Simi 2017).
Many theories argue that political defeats – like the defeat suffered by the extreme right
in 2008 as a result of the election victory of Obama – would motivate the losing side to increase
their mobilization (e.g., Gurr 1970; Kaplan 1993; Kaplan 1996; LaFree, Dugan, and Korte 2009).
Other well-established models, however, claim that the winning side may feel encouraged and
thus increase their mobilization (e.g., Green and Rich 1998; Hewitt 2000; McAdam 1982; Van
Dyke, Soule, and Widom 2001). We examine these arguments in the context of the extreme right
and recent U.S. presidential elections, the most significant American political prize. As we note
above and below, many factions of the RWE movement, as well as those with far-right views
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(see Parker and Baretto 2013), were strongly opposed to Obama and were terrified about him
winning the presidency and the consequences of that (Mills 2019). Again, many of these same
segments were enthusiastic supporters of Trump and believed his victory could embolden their
world views (Futrell and Simi 2017). How did these two election results impact RWEs’ online
activities? More broadly, what matters more: (1) political defeat, deprivation, and/or strain, or (2)
political victory, and encouragement? Both perspectives have well established theoretical
foundations that we empirically investigate here.
Mobilizing extremism: political defeat and deprivation or political victory and
encouragement?
The theoretical literature from criminology, social movements, and political sociology, among
others, includes diverging views about how political outcomes could affect movements. One
perspective maintains that political defeats could cause a movement to increase its mobilization
and activities. Political and relative deprivation – consistent with losing a strongly held political
contest – have long been used to explain increased social movement activism, and political
rebellion (Gurr 1970). Research on the Tea Party movement (TPM), for example, has shown a
link between political defeat and mobilization (Parkin, Freilich, and Chermak 2015), from
enhanced voter turnout in subsequent elections (Williamson, Skocpol, and Coggin 2011) to
increased membership (Tope, Pickett, and Chiricos 2015) and support (Parker and Barreto 2013)
for the TPM from people with racial grievances. Jeffrey Kaplan’s (1993; 1996) research on the
anti-abortion movement has also illustrated how defeats, both legislative and perceived abuse
during protests, has radicalized and spurred on pro-life movement activists. King and Sutton
(2013), in their assessment of the temporal clustering of hate crime offending, have shown how
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5
antecedent events involving a clearly identifiable group associated with the event (e.g., Muslims
in the case of 9/11) can lead to perceptions of group threat and various forms of reactionary
behavior. The terrorism and criminology literature similarly discuss backlash effects, where laws
or government policies and conceivably an election result “outrage participants or energize a
base of potential supporters…[and] may increase the likelihood of further terrorist strikes”
(LaFree et al. 2009: 21) and it seems could likewise affect legal mobilization (see McCauley
2006; see also Pridemore and Freilich 2007).
Similar logic underlies criminology’s popular general strain theory (GST). Agnew (1992)
posits that one major cause of crime is failing to achieve important goals, or losing something
that is important to you, which causes stress that results in criminal behavior. Agnew (2010)
subsequently extended GST and applied it to terrorism. He contends terrorism is more likely to
occur when civilians experience a high level of collective/communal strain that they believe is
unfair, and from more powerful entities and others who they are weakly bonded to. The
increased frustration and other negative emotions make terrorism more likely (i.e., terrorism is a
mechanism to reduce the frustration), as does the decreased self and social controls that make
coping more difficult. Here, the extreme right was increasingly aggravated by idea that the
federal government (who they feared and loathed) would further marginalize them by, in their
view, unjustly and unlawfully taking away their gun rights and related liberties (Simi and Futrell
2015). Another consistent approach is reactance theory (Brehm and Brehm 1981) that predicts
persons will confront statutes, laws, policies and actions that they view as controlling their
actions. Factions of the extreme right, as outlined, not only despised President Obama due to
virulent racism, but as noted were also were fearful of losing their cherished right to bear arms
(Mills 2019). During his campaign, Obama strongly endorsed gun control and mocked some for
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6
bitterly clinging to their guns and religion in one widely publicized 2008 primary campaign
incident (Pilkington 2008). These deprivation and backlash processes may be magnified when
the governing authority is viewed as illegitimate (Sherman 1993; Tyler 2000), which dovetails
with another extreme right-wing belief of suspicion and hostility to the federal government
especially, as noted, in the areas of guns and other individual liberties (see Freilich, Chermak,
Belli, Gruenewald, and Parkin 2014).
On the other hand, some social movement scholars conclude that a movement’s
mobilization, activism, and even violence will increase, not due to political defeat, but to
political victories. Green and Rich (1998), for example, investigated the association between
white supremacist rallies and demonstrations (i.e., legal activities) and cross-burnings on the
county-level in North Carolina. They found that in counties where white supremacist rallies
occurred, the likelihood of a cross burning increased. The authors offer one interpretation for this
finding: since most of the suspected cross-burners had no apparent ties to white supremacist
groups, it could be that white supremacist rallies encouraged fellow travelers – by drawing
attention to racial grievances – to engage in this form of racial intimidation. Van Dyke and
colleagues (2001) similarly found that states with sodomy laws had more anti-gay hate crimes.
The authors wondered whether the pro traditional family, and anti-gay movement’s political
victories indicated a greater tolerance for extreme right-wing activity.
A winning political environment thus encourages the wider social movement and its
supporters to act and increase their mobilization. Hewitt (2003: 25) claims that “these arguments
imply that there will be more violence under sympathetic than hostile administrations”, and it
does not seem like too much of an extension to conclude that legal activism could similarly
increase. In other words, political victories act as a push for increased activity because the
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7
movement may believe it has the support and sympathy of the larger community (Hewitt 2000;
2003). Indeed, political process theory – which is one of the leading social movement models –
argues that successful movements take advantage of favorable political and other environments
to increase their mobilization and activities (McAdam 1982).
Study hypotheses
Research has overwhelmingly found that central offline events influence online activity and
highlight an important interaction between people’s on- and offline worlds (e.g., Conway-Silva,
Filer, Kenski, and Tsetsi 2018; Grinberg, Joseph, Swire-Thompson, and Lazer 2019; Shmargad
and Sanchez 2020; Tumasjan, Sprenger, Sandner, and Welpe 2010). Less, however, is known
about the connection between these two environments and the practices of extreme right-wing
communities in particular, and extremist communities in general (Scrivens, Gill, and Conway
2020). Instead, empirical studies have tended to focus on how critical events influence the life
trajectories and activities of the extreme right in the offline world (e.g., Blee 1996; Bubolz and
Simi 2015; Freilich, Chermak and Caspi 2009a; Freilich, Chermak, and Simone Jr 2009b;
Schafer, Mullin, and Box 2014; Simi and Futrell 2009; Simi and Futrell 2015). Additionally,
research has explored the association between the text and messaging of terrorist groups and
offline actions (e.g., Hermann and Sakiev 2011; Pennebaker 2011; Smith 2008; Smith, Suedfeld,
Conway III, and Winter 2008), as well as the link between U.S. presidential rhetoric and political
violence (e.g., Fisher, Dugan, and Chenoweth 2018).
Some recent research has also considered the impact of trigger or galvanizing events on
hateful content online such as the effect of riots (Bliuc, Betts, Vergani, Iqbal, and Dunn 2019),
rallies (van der Vegt, Mozes, Gill, and Kleinberg 2019), and terrorist attacks (Burnap, Williams,
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
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Sloan, Rana, Housley…and Voss 2014; Kaakinen, Oksanen, and Räsänen 2018; Williams and
Burnap 2015). The role of political elections as trigger events has also become an area of
research in part because of the rising popularity in far-right politics and ideologies in the Western
world. The primary focus of this scholarship has been on the relationship between tweets about
the 2016 U.S. presidential election and hate speech on Twitter (Müller and Schwarz 2018;
Siegel, Nikitin, Barberá, Sterling, Pullen…Tucker 2018) as well as the growth of alt-right
networks on Twitter (e.g., Berger 2018b; Ganesh 2020; Sainudiin, Yogeeswaran, Nash, and
Sahioun 2019) and 4chan (Zannettou, Finkelstein, Bradlyn, and Blackburn 2018a; Papasavva,
Zannettou, De Cristofaro, Stringhini, and Blackburn 2020; Zannettou, Bradlyn, De Cristofaro,
Kwak, Sirivianos… and Blackburn 2018b) in response to Trump’s election victory. But in light
of these important contributions, less is known about the extent to which divergent presidential
election results trigger or mobilize the extreme right online.
This study sought to assess the role of presidential election results as triggering events
affecting the posting activities of participants within an extreme right online community, as
research has shown a connection between social-political events and spikes in racially-motivated
actions, both online (e.g., Sela et al. 2012; Zannettou et al., 2018b) and offline (see Edwards and
Rushin, 2018). Again, our emphasis here is on whether political defeat and deprivation or
political victory and encouragement (i.e., the 2008 and 2016 U.S. presidential elections of
Obama and Trump, respectively) impacts users’ posting activities on the largest RWE forum. On
the one hand, many theories argue that political defeats motivate the losing side to increase their
mobilization (e.g., Gurr 1970; Kaplan 1993; Kaplan 1996; LaFree et al. 2009). Research in this
regard has found that online activity in general and hateful activity in particular increased in
digital platforms of the extreme right following Obama’s election victory in 2008 as a result of a
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
9
perceived political defeat (e.g., Hankes and Zhang 2017; Sela et al. 2012). Research also
suggests that it is common for RWEs to express the need to be prepared to mobilize during times
of social-political uncertainty, oftentimes by participating in paramilitary preparations and
stockpiling firearms, amongst other necessities (e.g., Blee 2002; Chermak 2002; Freilich et al.
2009b; Kaplan 1995). Here discussions about the right to bear arms, for example, are commonly
found in online communities of the extreme right (Kimmel and Ferber 2000), including
following the election of the first African American president who was perceived by the extreme
right as supporting gun control (Mills 2019). Thus, this research leads to the following
hypotheses:
Hypothesis 1: Posting activity will increase over time in the largest online forum of the
extreme right following the 2008 U.S. presidential election results.
Hypothesis 2: RWE-related posting activity will increase over time in the largest online
forum of the extreme right following the 2008 U.S. presidential election results.
Hypothesis 3: Firearms-relate posting activity will increase over time in the largest
online forum of the extreme right following the 2008 U.S. presidential election results.
On the other hand, well-established models claim the winning side may feel encouraged
and thus increase their mobilization (e.g., Green and Rich 1998; Hewitt 2000; McAdam 1982;
Van Dyke et al. 2001). Such perspectives are supported by previous research findings in that,
within extreme right-wing digital spaces and in online discussions, online activity and hateful
activity increased following Trump’s election victory in 2016 as a result of a perceived political
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
10
victory (e.g., Papasavva et al. 2020; Zannettou et al. 2018a; Zannettou et al. 2018b). Reports also
suggest that Trump, who during his election campaign was concerned about protecting the rights
of gun owners, was supported by the extreme right in part because of his stance on gun rights
(Neiwert 2017). Indeed, the right to bear arms is rooted in extreme right-wing ideologies (Barkun
1989; Blee 2002; Chermak 2002; Freilich et al. 1999). Thus, this research leads to the following
hypotheses:
Hypothesis 4: Posting activity will increase over time in the largest online forum of the
extreme right following the 2016 U.S. presidential election results.
Hypothesis 5: RWE-related posting activity will increase over time in the largest online
forum of the extreme right following the 2016 U.S. presidential election results.
Hypothesis 6: Firearms-related posting activity will increase over time in the largest
online forum of the extreme right following the 2016 U.S. presidential election results.
While the two competing perspectives noted above have well-established theoretical
foundations in the terrorism and criminology literature, what remains unknown is which may be
more influential in mobilizing the extreme right online: (1) political defeat, deprivation, and/or
strain, or (2) political victory, and encouragement?
Gauging online discussions following key social-political events in general can provide
researchers, practitioners, and policymakers, amongst others, with useful information about how
digital hate campaigns or efforts to mobilize in extreme online spaces develop over time as a
result of the offline events. Exploring how members of a particular extremist movement,
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including the extreme right, communicates and by extension mobilizes online following political
defeat and/or victory can also be helpful in understanding or perhaps even predicting alarming
trends in online activity before happening offline. Law enforcement and intelligence
communities, for example, may be in a better position to identify online discussions or user
networks that are credible threat (i.e., those who engage in violence offline), thus informing
future risk factor frameworks. Officials may also have valuable intelligence, informed by online
trends, to put them on higher alert following the political defeat or victory of an extremist
movement. Time series analysis using intervention modeling provides a useful approach through
which to guide these efforts.
Data and method
We used posts from Stormfront.org, which is the oldest racial hate site and discussion forum
used by members of the RWE movement. Stormfront is also one of the most influential RWE
forums in the world (Bliuc et al. 2019; Simi and Futrell 2015). Although a number of emerging
digital spaces have been adopted by the extreme right in recent years (see Conway, Scrivens, and
Macnair 2019), Stormfront continues to be a valuable online space for researchers to assess
temporal posting patterns (Bliuc et al. 2019; Kleinberg, van der Vegt, and Gill 2020; Scrivens,
Davies, and Frank 2018).
Stormfront has been decreasing in user posting activity in recent years (see Figure 1), but
it remains the largest and one of the most active RWE forums in the world. It has also hosted
some of the deadliest adherents since its inception. Anti-hate watch-groups, for example, have
described Stormfront as “a magnet and breeding ground for the deadly and the deranged”,
claiming that its members have been responsible for approximately 100 murders since the site
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12
came online (Southern Poverty Law Center 2014). Stormfront has also been referred to as an
“echo chamber for hate” (Simi and Futrell 2015) and a “hornet’s nest” for extremists to become
more extreme (Wojcieszak 2010).
Figure 1. Distribution of postings on Stormfront from 2001 to 2017.
All open source content on Stormfront, which included 11,431,649 posts made by
102,087 authors between August 28, 2001 and October 29, 2017, was captured using a custom-
written computer program that was designed to collect vast amounts of information online (for
more information on the web-crawler, see Scrivens, Gaudette, Davies, and Frank 2019). We then
analyzed all open source messages that were posted on the forum 120 days before and 120 days
after each election event, which consisted of 765,573 posts for the 2008 election and 256,867
posts for the 2016 election.
Impact measures
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Total posts, which is a calculation of the total number of postings on Stormfront per day, was
constructed for the purpose of measuring the general frequency of postings around the time of
the presidential elections. In short, this measure served as a baseline with which we could
compare the total number of postings with the total number of RWE posts and firearm posts.
RWE posts, which is a calculation of the total number of postings on Stormfront per day
that included hate keywords related to right-wing extremism, was constructed for the purpose of
identifying discussions that underpin extreme right-wing sentiment around the time of the
presidential elections and minimize the collection of extraneous posts. Here a list of keywords
was developed by drawing from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Hate Symbol Database,
which included popular hate terminology and slogans (e.g., HH [heil Hitler], WPWW [white
pride worldwide], ACAB [all cops are bastards], etc.), as well as hate symbols (e.g., swastika,
confederate flag, Celtic cross, etc.), and names of popular RWE groups (e.g., Blood & Honour,
Hammerskins, Aryan Nations, etc.) frequently used by the extreme right in Stormfront
(Bowman-Grieve 2009; Daniels 2009), amongst other RWE spaces online (see Daniels 2009).
2
To illustrate, research suggests that hate symbols and terms are commonly used by adherents in
RWE spaces online to communicate with the like-minded as well as express a level of
commitment to “the cause” (e.g., Bowman-Grieve 2009; Daniels 2009; De Koster and Houtman
2008; Holt, Freilich, and Chermak 2020). Research also suggests that users express their extreme
right-wing identity by referring to their RWE affiliate groups during their online communications
(e.g., Simi and Futrell 2015).
2
The full list of RWE terms that made up this impact measure can be found by visiting the ADL Hate Symbol
Database at: https://www.adl.org/hate-symbols. Terms for this measure consisted of all 328 keywords found in the
Database.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
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Firearm posts, which is a calculation of the total number of postings on Stormfront per
day that included keywords related to firearms, was constructed for the purposes of evaluating
whether, during the time of the two elections, the online content on Stormfront included
discussions about firearms.
3
A list of keywords for this measure was developed by drawing from
an extensive list of terms that relate to firearms.
4
Previous studies suggest that ingrained within
extreme right-wing ideologies is an unrestricted right to own firearms in the name of personal
liberty and survival (Barkun 1989; Blee 2002; Chermak 2002; Freilich, Pichardo Almanzar, and
Rivera 1999; Freilich et al. 2009b). Extreme right-wing adherents in the U.S., for example, often
argue that, had the population not had access to firearms, the American Revolution would not
have succeeded. They also believe that firearms are essential to protect their personal liberty
from enemy foreign forces and any dictatorial government that may emerge within the
governmental system. Together, firearms are the foundation of individual liberty and American
sovereignty (Chermak 2002; Freilich et al. 1999).
Analytic strategy
To determine whether the two election results had an impact on the volume of posts for the
three-forum series (i.e., total posts, RWE posts, and firearm posts) as well as compare the impact
across election results, we employ ARIMA time series using intervention modeling (McCleary,
McDowall, and Bartos 2017). The process begins with pre-whitening the observations that
occurred prior to the event. That is, any trend, autoregressive, or moving-average processes are
3
For the RWE and firearm posting measures, each keyword was unique to each list and there were no overlapping
words across lists.
4
The full list of firearm terms that made up this impact measure can be found by visiting:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_firearms_terms. Terms for this measure consisted of all 202 keywords
found in the glossary of firearms terms.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
15
controlled for, so the pre-intervention series becomes white-noise. Each pre-event series was
evaluated by the autocorrelation and partial autocorrelation plots for indications of a trend,
autoregression, or a moving average. To determine if the series needed differencing, we ran a
series of diagnostic tests: the ADF, the DF-GLS, and the KPSS.
5
The ARIMA iterative evaluation process allows the analyst to detect any signal in the
post-intervention series from random noise in the pre-intervention series. An ARIMA analysis
requires running a series of models to assess whether the model’s time-series parameters (AR
and MA) were statistically significant; if not, the number for the parameter values are adjusted
(e.g., changing AR = 2 to AR = 1), and the model rerun until it is identified as a white-noise
process based on the Q statistic. Once the pre-intervention series is deemed white noise, the
impact of the event can be evaluated by including a dummy variable for the weeks following the
intervention (e.g., the weeks following the election of Trump in 2016 = 1 and prior to the
election = 0).
6
We ran the ARIMA analysis using the software R’s arimax function from the
Time Series Analysis (TSA) package (Chan and Ripley 2018).
Results
The time series plots for each of the two elections by three posting types are shown in Figures 2
and 3 for the 2008 and 2016 elections respectively. In Figure 2, the pre-event series (120 days
prior to the 2008 election) for total posts (the top panel) appears to be a fairly stable in 2008,
5
The various tests for a unit root have different limits and can report conflicting results. For example, the ADF
(augmented Dickey-Fuller) tends to have low statistical power while the KPSS test tends toward type II errors.
When the tests provided conflicting evidence of a unit root, we differenced the series based on whether the number
of tests indicated a unit root as well as an examination of the ACF plot. We also ran all models with differencing and
without, and the significance and direction of the impact coefficient remained the same, though the effect size was
typically diminished.
6
Because we examined election results on three outcomes per election, we adjusted the significance test alpha to
0.016 using the Bonferroni correction (or 0.05/3).
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
16
though slightly increasing as election day approached. The day of the election is shown as the
vertical line in the plot. There is a clear elevation in postings around election day in 2008 for all
three series. The mean of the post-2008 election series appears elevated, though there is a
significant drop in total postings on day 156 as a result of the forum going offline for part of that
day. This drop then recovers a few days later. For RWE posts, this series appears to follow the
same pattern as the first series, though the upward trend is not as pronounced as the first series.
The dip that is apparent on the total posts on day 156 is also evident in the RWE posts. Finally,
the firearm postings follow similar trends as the first two series, though the scale of firearm
postings is much less than those in series one and two (i.e., a scale of 400 versus 5,000). The
drop in the first two series is detectable in the firearms posts, but it does not stand out against the
rest of the series.
The plot for postings following the 2016 election are similar to the 2008 election. In all
three posting categories in 2016, there is a spike in activity in the first few days of the series, and
then the series stabilizes in that the variation in activity becomes low. The variation in posting
then increases and abates in 2016, but there is an escalation in posts running up to election day.
Furthermore, the total posts and the RWE posts appear to have an elevated level of activity in the
post-election series in 2016, which is not evident in the firearm posting series.
An examination of the plots across elections shows some interesting patterns that suggest
possible impact in some of the series, especially given that the frequency of postings on
Stormfront has continued to desist in recent years (see Figure 1). Regardless, it is difficult to
determine the election effect on the postings without controlling for the various time series
factors, namely trend, autocorrelation, and moving averages. Thus, we next turn to the ARIMA
analysis to determine if there was a change in postings following either election.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
17
Figure 2. Time series plot of postings on Stormfront during the 2008 U.S.
presidential election.
Notes: The vertical line indicates the election day in 2008. The x-axis is 120 prior- and post-election. The series for
Firearm Posts has a Y axis that is much lower than Total Posts or RWE Posts.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
18
Figure 3. Time series plot of postings on Stormfront during the 2016 U.S.
presidential election.
Notes: The vertical line indicates the election day in 2016. The x-axis is 120 prior- and post-
election. The series for Firearm Posts has a Y axis that is much lower than Total Posts
or RWE Posts
The results of the ARIMA analysis for both elections are presented in Table 1. The time
series analysis suggested an ARIMA (1,1,1) model for all three types of posts in 2008. For the
total posts here, there was a mean difference of approximately 666 postings in the pre-election
series compared to the post-election series. The total posts showed a change of approximately
667 postings in the post-election series (p < 0.001). For RWE posts, the average increase in posts
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
19
was approximately 543 and the difference was significant (w = 738.95, p < 0.010). Finally, for
firearm posts, there was also an increase of roughly 70 posts between the two series, but the
ARIMA model did not show a statistically significant change (w = 6.19, p > 0.050).
Table 1. Interrupted time-series analysis of postings on Stormfront during U.S. presidential
elections.
Pre-event Post-event Mean
Event and series mean mean difference p d q w s.e.
2008 election
Total posts 2859.17 3524.94 665.78 1 0 1 667.11*** 92.92
RWE posts 2039.28 2582.11 542.832 1 1 1 738.95** 227.06
Firearm posts 184.58 254.78 70.19 1 1 1 6.19 33.75
2016 election
Total posts 888.60 1258.67 370.07 0 1 1 923.71*** 206.38
RWE posts 587.55 981.09 393.54 0 1 1 852.13*** 167.49
Firearm posts 48.47 56.75 8.29 0 0 3 7.82 5.033
Notes: **p < 0.016; ***p < 0.001. RWE is right-wing extremist. Each pre- and post-event series covered 120 days. For
the ARIMA parameters, p is the number of autoregressive terms, d is the number of differences needed to
make a series stationary, and q is the number of moving average terms. The w parameter is the difference
between the pre-event (0) and post-event (1) observations. The s.e. is the standard error of the w parameter.
For the 2016 election, there was a similar pattern in the results for the 2008 election. For
all the three types of posts in 2016, the ARIMA analysis indicated an ARIMA (0,1,1,) model.
Total posts in 2016 showed an increase in mean posts by approximately 370. The ARIMA model
indicated the difference between the two series was roughly 924 (p < 0.001). For RWE posts, the
mean difference between pre- and post-election was 934; the ARIMA model showed a
significant increase (w = 852.13, p < 0.001). Firearm postings in the 2016 election series showed
a small increase but only by about eight posts and this was not significant (p > 0.050).
In sum, there was an increase in postings following two presidential elections, one for
Obama and the other for Trump. The pattern was similar in that total posts and RWE posts were
significant and showed a sizable increase. For firearm posts, there was no significant change in
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20
either election year. Comparing across the two elections, however, the number of posts for all
three types was higher in 2008 than in 2016. For example, there were 1,266 more total posts
following the 2008 election of President Obama than for President Trump. There were also about
1,601 more RWE posts following Obama than Trump.
Discussion
This study examined the U.S. presidential election results in 2008 and 2016 on the online activity
of the extreme right for the purpose of exploring how political defeat and political victory impact
the mobilization of the extreme right online. All open-source data found on the largest white
supremacy discussion forum, Stormfront, was extracted using a customized web-crawler which
included approximately 12 million messages spanning approximately 16 years. ARIMA time
series was then employed using intervention modeling for three impact measures (i.e., total
posts, RWE posts, and firearm posts) for each election year. Several conclusions can be drawn
from this study.
First, and surprisingly, we found no significant change for firearm posts on Stormfront
following either presidential election. Perhaps the forum is not a hotbed for discussions about
firearms generally, which to some extent is surprising given that previous research suggests that
ingrained within extreme right-wing ideologies is an unrestricted right to own firearms for
personal liberty and survival purposes (e.g., Blee 2002; Chermak 2002; Freilich et al. 1999) as
well as the need to be prepared for attacks, oftentimes through paramilitary preparations,
training, and stockpiling supplies including firearms – especially during times of economic and
social uncertainty (Kaplan 1995; Kimmel and Ferber 2000; Mills 2019). This finding does,
however, align with Holt and colleagues (2020) who conducted a content analysis of thousands
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
21
of posts from eight RWE forums and similarly found few firearm-specific posts and a small
portion of posts related to anti-gun control sentiments. On the other hand, the extreme right is a
diffused movement encompassing virulent racists, and those with less racist tendencies who are
most fearful of the federal government (Simi and Futrell 2015). It is possible the virulent far-
right racists gravitate to Stormfront, while perhaps those most concerned about firearms are
attracted to more specific gun focused sites. Regardless, this finding requires further exploration.
Second, the results of the current study reveal similar posting patterns on Stormfront
following the two presidential elections, with a significant and sizable increase in the total posts
and RWE posts following each intervention event. This suggests that there is a link between the
general political climate, the current administration and posting activity of the extreme right on
Stormfront. While this finding aligns with empirical studies that have measured the impact of
key social events on hateful sentiment and activity of the extreme right online, whether it is the
impact of trigger events (e.g., Bliuc et al. 2019; Burnap et al. 2014; Kaakinen et al. 2018;
Williams and Burnap 2015) or U.S. presidential elections (e.g., Müller and Schwarz 2018;
Papasavva et al. 2020; Siegel et al. 2018; Zannettou et al. 2018a; Zannettou et al. 2018b), this is
a noteworthy finding because, despite the fact that posting activity on Stormfront has been
decreasing for quite some time (see Hankes and Zhang 2017), forum users in our study were
responsive to two opposite events that produced similar results. On the one hand, when
presidential candidates make political claims that are in support of the views of the online users
(e.g., Trump), they may collectively believe that their viewpoints are not at the fringes and may
feel empowered. On the other hand, when candidates make political claims divergent from the
views of online users (e.g., Obama), they may feel marginalized and express the need to mobilize
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
22
against the perceived threat. But regardless of each event, in response to each election,
Stormfront users melded together for the purpose of collective action.
Most notably, though, is that the number of postings for all three impact measures is
much higher for the 2008 election than the 2016 election, and the postings are noticeably
elevated during the Obama election year compared to those during the Trump election year. In
other words, the extreme right appears to be emboldened by Trump in the run up to the 2016
election and their persistence after his election victory supports that assessment, but the online
community is much more active both before and after the Obama administration took the Oval
Office. Empirical studies have similarly found that Obama’s election victory in 2008 amplified
racial threat effects amongst white Americans (e.g., Wetts and Willer 2018) as well as resulted in
an increase in the advocacy of hostility and violence on several hate blogs (e.g., Sela et al. 2012).
Researchers have likewise noted that the fear of political and cultural change on part of the
Obama administration served as “tipping point” for the extreme racist right-wing movement
specifically (Simi 2010) or far-right movements more broadly, including the TPM (Parker and
Baretto 2013). Our analysis of both election results lends empirical support for this claim: during
times of political defeat and, by extension, uncertainty that threatens the existence of the white
race, online discussions from the extreme right are driven by perceived harms in the offline
world (i.e., Obama as president) much more so than external events working in their favor (i.e.,
Trump as president). Together, political defeat and deprivation seems to have a bigger impact on
the mobilization of the extreme right online than political victory and encouragement.
A number of limitations from the current study may inform future research on the
impacts of key social events on the online activity of the extreme right. First, there are various
ways that researchers can assess impact within an online space of the extreme right. While we
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
23
would suggest that a key starting place for this is by measuring the total number of posts and
incorporating parameters that we used to identify RWE and firearm postings, future research
should develop lists of keywords to account for discussions about other key social issues such as
immigration, as well as code for various forms of hate speech including the use of humor, and
develop a violence metric in an effort to identity topic-specific content. This could be done in
combination with a mixed-methods approach to identity key themes that emerge in the data
around the time of the intervention events.
Second, the measure that we used to assess whether the 2008 and 2016 elections caused a
significant increase in RWE posts was developed by relying on a list of terms from the ADL
Hate Symbol Database, but this list does not account for all extreme right-wing postings on
Stormfront. Certainty there are other sets of keywords that could be used to identify extreme
right-wing postings on the forum in particular, or other online spaces that facilitate extreme
right-wing discourse more broadly. Although the majority of the content posted on Stormfront is
extremist-related or includes extremist undertones, future research is still needed to develop a
measure – or a set of measures – to minimize the collection of extraneous posts and to identify
extreme right-wing postings that were not identified in the current study. Researchers could
develop more extensive lists of RWE keywords or more precise, topic-based lists, depending on
the goal of the identification exercise.
Third, it may be the case that, in addition to Obama’s election victory serving as a
“tipping point” for the extreme right (see Simi 2010), the major economic downturn in 2008, for
example, amplified their online discourse – which is similar to research on whites’ racial
resentment during the year of Obama’s successful presidential candidacy (see Wetts and Willer
2018). Future research should attempt to account for other central events and subsequent
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
24
interaction effects during the analysis stage. Efforts should also be made to assess whether the
post-election increases observed in 2008 and 2016 are unique to those elections, and that
increased posting activity does not occur in other less contentious elections. In other words, it is
worth exploring whether posting activity on Stormfront increases following presidential elections
in general.
Lastly, the results of the current study suggest that both elections caused a significant
increase in the total posts and RWE posts for each election, and more so for the Obama victory
than the Trump victory, with no significant change for firearm postings in either election year.
This begs the question of whether these escalations are restricted to the online space or whether it
is also mirrored in offline behavior. Future research should attempt to assess this important on-
and offline dynamic by addressing the question of intention relative to action, perhaps by
comparing the list of users who were active during either election year with existing data on
those who have engaged in both legal movement activity (e.g., rallies, leafletting) and violence
offline. Comparing these authors’ online presence may provide the much-needed insight into
online activities that may emerge in the offline world and aid law enforcement and others
charged with maintaining public safety.
TRIGGERED BY DEFEAT OR VICTORY?
25
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... Due to the often highly specialised language among extremists, several studies also developed custom dictionaries to apply a word-count based approach. Typically, word lists are created that include terms specific to an ideology, such as racist slurs and hate symbols (e.g., WPWW: white pride worldwide; 88: Heil Hitler, where '8' is a representation of the eighth letter of the alphabet 'H') for the extreme right (Kleinberg, van der Vegt, & Gill, 2020;Scrivens, Burruss, et al., 2020). An example of this approach modelled language use on right-wing extremist forum Stormfront, in order to assess the effect of the 2008 Obama and 2012 Trump elections using ARIMA timeseries intervention modelling (Scrivens, Burruss, et al., 2020). ...
... Typically, word lists are created that include terms specific to an ideology, such as racist slurs and hate symbols (e.g., WPWW: white pride worldwide; 88: Heil Hitler, where '8' is a representation of the eighth letter of the alphabet 'H') for the extreme right (Kleinberg, van der Vegt, & Gill, 2020;Scrivens, Burruss, et al., 2020). An example of this approach modelled language use on right-wing extremist forum Stormfront, in order to assess the effect of the 2008 Obama and 2012 Trump elections using ARIMA timeseries intervention modelling (Scrivens, Burruss, et al., 2020). The total number of posts, as well as the posts that included right-wing extremist terms, and posts that referred to firearms were measured 120 days before and after each election. ...
... While firearm posts did not change as the result of either election, both the total number of posts and right-wing extremist posts increased after both events. However, the volume of all three types of posts was markedly higher during the 2008 Obama election, suggesting that 'political defeat' has a bigger effect on online behaviour of the extreme right than 'political victory' represented by the Trump election (Scrivens, Burruss, et al., 2020). ...
Thesis
Language alluding to possible violence is widespread online, and security professionals are increasingly faced with the issue of understanding and mitigating this phenomenon. The volume of extremist and violent online data presents a workload that is unmanageable for traditional, manual threat assessment. Computational linguistics may be of particular relevance to understanding threats of grievance-fuelled targeted violence on a large scale. This thesis seeks to advance knowledge on the possibilities and pitfalls of threat assessment through automated linguistic analysis. Based on in-depth interviews with expert threat assessment practitioners, three areas of language are identified which can be leveraged for automation of threat assessment, namely, linguistic content, style, and trajectories. Implementations of each area are demonstrated in three subsequent quantitative chapters. First, linguistic content is utilised to develop the Grievance Dictionary, a psycholinguistic dictionary aimed at measuring concepts related to grievance-fuelled violence in text. Thereafter, linguistic content is supplemented with measures of linguistic style in order to examine the feasibility of author profiling (determining gender, age, and personality) in abusive texts. Lastly, linguistic trajectories are measured over time in order to assess the effect of an external event on an extremist movement. Collectively, the chapters in this thesis demonstrate that linguistic automation of threat assessment is indeed possible. The concluding chapter describes the limitations of the proposed approaches and illustrates where future potential lies to improve automated linguistic threat assessment. Ideally, developers of computational implementations for threat assessment strive for explainability and transparency. Furthermore, it is argued that computational linguistics holds particular promise for large-scale measurement of grievance-fuelled language, but is perhaps less suited to prediction of actual violent behaviour. Lastly, researchers and practitioners involved in threat assessment are urged to collaboratively and critically evaluate novel computational tools which may emerge in the future.
... The past decade has seen a dramatic rise in the public profile of white nationalism in the United States. Invigorated by the 2008 election of President Barack Obama and coalescing with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, this period was marked by a substantial uptick in far-right hate crimes (Bergengruen & Hennigan, 2019;Feinberg, 2020;Jendryke & McClure, 2019), white nationalist rallies, marches, protests, and online activities (Medina et al., 2018;Miller & Graves, 2020;Scrivens et al., 2021), and increasing polarization of the voting public, marked particularly by white resentment regarding perceived status decline (Abramowitz & McCoy, 2019;Fording & Schram, 2020;Mutz, 2018;Updegrove et al., 2020;Valentino et al., 2017). While these phenomena are closely correlated, white nationalist groups (WNGs) are typically regarded as symptoms of such resentments rather than social movements that may contribute to tangible political outcomes (see Blee, 2017;Kincaid, 2017). ...
... While it has been argued that much of white nationalist recruitment, organization, and mobilization now occurs over the internet rather than in physical space (e.g. Scrivens et al., 2021), this approach is likely insufficient for understanding more localized political outcomes such as Congressional elections. ...
Article
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To what extent do white nationalists influence Congressional representative conservatism? Although ethnocentrism, out-group prejudice, and racial threats strongly predict American political attitudes and voter behavior, how social movements predicated on these beliefs shape political outcomes is rarely considered. We argue that white nationalist activities significantly contribute to the radicaliza-tion of Congressional representatives' policy agendas in a manner non-reducible to demographic or socioeconomic conditions. By mobilizing white voters against racial status threats, they indirectly compel politicians to adopt more radically conservative agendas. We quantitatively test these propositions by examining distributions of white nationalist groups in the American South against Congressional representative conservatism from 2010-2017. Analyses reveal that white nationalists indeed appear to significantly impact representative radical conservatism, even controlling for numerous factors commonly theorized to explain their rise. In doing so, we contribute to emerging insights on the political influence of the radical right on the contemporary American conservative "mainstream".
... 28 A growing body of research has also explored various online mobilization efforts by RWE movements (among other extremist movements), including -but not limited to -empirical studies exploring the mobilization efforts by RWE groups and movements on violent extremist forums, 29 social media, 30 and digital applications, 31 as well as the impact of trigger events on online mobilization such as the effect of riots, 32 rallies, 33 terrorist attacks, 34 and presidential election results. 35 Law enforcement and intelligence agencies likewise recognize the need to better understand extremist mobilization efforts online, 36 as empirical research suggests that the Internet plays an important role in facilitating and mobilizing individuals to extremist violence. 37 The acknowledgement of the role of the Internet in mobilizing individuals to violent extremism has motivated multiple federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center) to develop laundry lists of precursor behaviors linked to violent extremist outcomes. ...
Article
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Although there is an ongoing need for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify and assess the online activities of violent extremists prior to their engagement in violence offline, little is empirically known about their online posting patterns generally or differences in their online patterns compared to non-violent extremists who share similar ideological beliefs particularly. Even less is empirically known about how their online patterns compare to those who post in extremist spaces in general. This study addresses this gap through a content analysis of postings from a unique sample of violent and non-violent right-wing extremists as well as from a sample of postings within a sub-forum of the largest white supremacy web-forum, Stormfront. Here the existence of extremist ideologies, personal grievances, and violent extremist mobilization efforts were quantified within each of the three sample groups. Several notable differences in posting patterns were observed across samples, many of which may inform future risk factor frameworks used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify credible threats online. This study concludes with a discussion of the implications of the analysis, its limitations, and avenues for future research.
... The second, covering 2011-2013 was collected by other scholars (Scrivens et al., 2019) and provided to the authors. The nature of the Stormfront forum enables complete data collection of each forum, both sources utilized web-crawlers in the forum collecting all the open-access forums and sub-forums, thus ensuring the data utilized in the study is all of the forums in the specified time period (Scrivens, 2021;Scrivens et al., 2019Scrivens et al., , 2020Scrivens et al., , 2021. After screening for posts including the term "vaccin*," we retained a corpus of 8892 posts for analysis. ...
Article
Introduction Research has indicated a growing resistance to vaccines among U.S. conservatives and Republicans. Following past successes of the far-right in mainstreaming health misinformation, this study tracks almost two decades of vaccine discourse on the extremist, white nationalist (WN) online message-board Stormfront. We examine the argumentative repertoire around vaccines on the forum, and whether it assimilated to or challenged common arguments for and against vaccines, or extended it in ways unique to the racist WN agenda. Methods We use a mixed-methods approach, combining unsupervised machine learning of 8892 posts including the term “vaccin*“, published on Stormfront between 2001 and 2017. We supplemented the computational analysis with a manual coding of randomly sampled 500 posts, evaluating the prevalence of pro- and anti-vaccine sentiment, previously identified pro- and anti-vaccine arguments, and WN-specific arguments. Results Discourse was dynamic, increasing around specific events, such as outbreaks and following legal debates about vaccine mandates. We identified four themes: conspiracies, science, race and white innovation. The prominence of themes over time was relatively stable. Our manual coding identified levels of anti-vaccine sentiment that were much higher than found in the past on mainstream social media. Most anti-vaccine posts relied on common anti-vaccine tropes and not on WN conspiracy theories. Pro-vaccination posts, however, were supported by unique race-based arguments. Conclusion We find a high volume of anti-vaccine sentiment among WN on Stormfront, but also identify unique pro-vaccine arguments that echo the group's racist ideology. Public health implication As with past health-related conspiracy theories, high levels of anti-vaccine sentiment in online far-right sociotechnical information systems could threaten public health, especially if it ‘spills-over’ to mainstream media. Many pro-vaccine arguments on the forum relied on racist, WN reasoning, thus preventing the authors from recommending the use of these unethical arguments in future public health communications.
... Therefore, while there are other extremist movements that will draw attention from researchers (e.g. groups like the Incels, or Involuntary Celibate, as stated on (Voroshilova and Pesterev 2021), we foresee a vibrant research activity around the detection and characterization of political extremism in future years (see, for example, Scrivens et al. (2021)). 2. When it comes to ML for extremist prediction, neural network based techniques have showcased promising performance levels in some of the reviewed works. ...
Article
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Extremism has grown as a global problem for society in recent years, especially after the apparition of movements such as jihadism. This and other extremist groups have taken advantage of different approaches, such as the use of Social Media, to spread their ideology, promote their acts and recruit followers. The extremist discourse, therefore, is reflected on the language used by these groups. Natural language processing (NLP) provides a way of detecting this type of content, and several authors make use of it to describe and discriminate the discourse held by these groups, with the final objective of detecting and preventing its spread. Following this approach, this survey aims to review the contributions of NLP to the field of extremism research, providing the reader with a comprehensive picture of the state of the art of this research area. The content includes a first conceptualization of the term extremism, the elements that compose an extremist discourse and the differences with other terms. After that, a review description and comparison of the frequently used NLP techniques is presented, including how they were applied, the insights they provided, the most frequently used NLP software tools, descriptive and classification applications, and the availability of datasets and data sources for research. Finally, research questions are approached and answered with highlights from the review, while future trends, challenges and directions derived from these highlights are suggested towards stimulating further research in this exciting research area.
Article
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There is an ongoing need for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to detect and assess online posting behaviors of violent extremists prior to their engagement in violence offline, but little is empirically known about their online behaviors generally or the differences in their behaviors compared with nonviolent extremists who share similar ideological beliefs particularly. In this study, we drew from a unique sample of violent and nonviolent right-wing extremists to compare their posting behaviors in the largest White supremacy web-forum. We used logistic regression and sensitivity analysis to explore how users’ time of entry into the lifespan of an extremist sub-forum and their cumulative posting activity predicted their violence status. We found a number of significant differences in the posting behaviors of violent and nonviolent extremists which may inform future risk factor frameworks used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify credible threats online.
Thesis
Recent data from anti-hate organizations finds that pro-White events, propaganda, and groups are steadily increasing in the United States. Additionally, large collective actions and mass shootings that are racially motivated have become highly visible in the past few years. Given social media’s role in both influencing and acting as a platform for the far-right, its impact cannot be ignored. Across two studies, this dissertation examines the themes underlying White nationalist social media content and its influence on White Americans’ intra and intergroup relations. In Study One, a content analysis of videos from five White nationalist YouTube channels finds that outgroups are both frequently discussed and mentioned in threatening or negative ways. Additionally, these videos regularly include content that references psychological mechanisms known to increase collective action intentions in the real world. In Study Two, a cross-sectional survey finds that self-reported exposure to social media content containing references to White injustice are associated with intentions to engage in collective action to improve the status and position of Whites in American society. Further, exposure to White injustice on social media has an especially strong influence on the real-world attitudes of Democrats. These findings reflect the important role played by digital media in the rise of White nationalism in Western nations with multicultural societies.
Article
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Although many law enforcement and intelligence agencies are concerned about online communities known to facilitate violent right-wing extremism, little is empirically known about the presence of extremist ideologies, expressed grievances, or violent mobilization efforts that make up these spaces. In this study, we conducted a content analysis of a sample of postings from two of the most conspicuous right-wing extremist forums known for facilitating violent extremism, Iron March and Fascist Forge. We identified a number of noteworthy posting patterns within and across forums which may assist law enforcement and intelligence agencies in identifying credible threats online.
Article
Full-text available
Despite the ongoing need for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to identify and assess the online activities of violent extremists prior to their engagement in violence offline, little is empirically known about their online behaviors generally or differences in their posting behaviors compared to non-violent extremists who share similar ideological beliefs particularly. In this study, we drew from a unique sample of violent and non-violent right-wing extremists to compare their posting behaviors within a sub-forum of the largest white supremacy web-forum. Analyses for the current study proceeded in three phases. First, we plotted the average posting trajectory for users in the sample, followed by an assessment of the rates at which they stayed active or went dormant in the sub-forum. We then used logistic regression to examine whether specific posting behaviors were characteristic of users' violence status. The results highlight a number of noteworthy differences in the posting behaviors of violent and non-violent right-wing extremists, many of which may inform future risk factor frameworks used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to identify credible threats online. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of this analysis, its limitations and avenues for future research.
Conference Paper
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This paper presents a dataset with over 3.3M threads and 134.5M posts from the Politically Incorrect board (/pol/) of the imageboard forum 4chan, posted over a period of almost 3.5 years (June 2016-November 2019). To the best of our knowledge, this represents the largest publicly available 4chan dataset, providing the community with an archive of posts that have been permanently deleted from 4chan and are otherwise inaccessible. We augment the data with a set of additional labels, including toxicity scores and the named entities mentioned in each post. We also present a statistical analysis of the dataset, providing an overview of what researchers interested in using it can expect, as well as a simple content analysis, shedding light on the most prominent discussion topics, the most popular entities mentioned, and the toxicity level of each post. Overall, we are confident that our work will motivate and assist researchers in studying and understanding 4chan, as well as its role on the greater Web. For instance, we hope this dataset may be used for cross-platform studies of social media, as well as being useful for other types of research like natural language processing. Finally, our dataset can assist qualitative work focusing on in-depth case studies of specific narratives, events, or social theories.
Article
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The increased threat of right-wing extremist violence necessitates a better understanding of online extremism. Radical message boards, small-scale social media platforms, and other internet fringes have been reported to fuel hatred. The current paper examines data from the right-wing forum Stormfront between 2001 and 2015. We specifically aim to understand the development of user activity and the use of extremist language. Various time-series models depict posting frequency and the prevalence and intensity of extremist language. Individual user analyses examine whether some super users dominate the forum. The results suggest that structural break models capture the forum evolution better than stationary or linear change models. We observed an increase of forum engagement followed by a decrease towards the end of the time range. However, the proportion of extremist language on the forum increased in a step-wise matter until the early summer of 2011, followed by a decrease. This temporal development suggests that forum rhetoric did not necessarily become more extreme over time. Individual user analysis revealed that super forum users accounted for the vast majority of posts and of extremist language. These users differed from normal users in their evolution of forum engagement.
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The alt-right is a growing radical right-wing network that is particularly effective at mobilizing emotion through digital communications. Introducing ‘white thymos’ as a framework to theorize the role of rage, anger, and indignation in alt-right communications, this study argues that emotive communication connects alt-right users and mobilizes white thymos to the benefit of populist radical right politics. By combining linguistic, computational, and interpretive techniques on data collected from Twitter, this study demonstrates that the alt-right weaponizes white thymos in three ways: visual documentation of white victimization, processes of legitimization of racialized pride, and reinforcement of the rectitude of rage and indignation. The weaponization of white thymos is then shown to be central to the culture of the alt-right and its connectivity with populist radical right politics.
Chapter
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Many researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers continue to raise questions about the role of the Internet in facilitating violent extremism and terrorism. A surge in research on this issue notwithstanding, relatively few empirically-grounded analyses are yet available. This chapter provides researchers with five key suggestions for progressing knowledge on the role of the Internet in facilitating violent extremism and terrorism so that we may be better placed to determine the significance of online content and activity in the latter going forward. These five suggestions relate to: (1) collecting primary data across multiple types of populations; (2) making archives of violent extremist online content accessible for use by researchers and on user-friendly platforms; (3) outreaching beyond terrorism studies to become acquainted with, for example, the Internet studies literature and engaging in interdisciplinary research with, for example, computer scientists; (4) including former extremists in research projects, either as study participants or project collaborators; and (5) drawing connections between the on-and offline worlds of violent extremists.
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This policy brief traces how Western right-wing extremists have exploited the power of the internet from early dial-up bulletin board systems to contemporary social media and messaging apps. It demonstrates how the extreme right has been quick to adopt a variety of emerging online tools, not only to connect with the like-minded, but to radicalise some audiences while intimidating others, and ultimately to recruit new members, some of whom have engaged in hate crimes and/or terrorism. Highlighted throughout is the fast pace of change of both the internet and its associated platforms and technologies, on the one hand, and the extreme right, on the other, as well as how these have interacted and evolved over time. Underlined too is the persistence, despite these changes, of right- wing extremists’ online presence, which poses challenges for effectively responding to this activity moving forward.
Book
Are Tea Party supporters merely a group of conservative citizens concerned about government spending? Or are they racists who refuse to accept Barack Obama as their president because he's not white? This book offers an alternative argument—that the Tea Party is driven by the reemergence of a reactionary movement in American politics that is fueled by a fear that America has changed for the worse. Providing a range of original evidence and rich portraits of party sympathizers as well as activists, the book shows that the perception that America is in danger directly informs how Tea Party supporters think and act. The afterword reflects on the Tea Party's recent initiatives, including the 2013 government shutdown, and evaluates their prospects for the 2016 election.
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Do social media platforms help or hinder democracy? Internet enthusiasts posit that social media could have a democratizing effect by lowering the costs of promotion, while skeptics argue that these platforms replicate or even exacerbate preexisting inequalities. We inform this debate by combining campaign finance and electoral outcome data from the Federal Election Commission with Twitter metrics of candidates who ran in the 2016 U.S. congressional elections. We find that poorer candidates, who spent less than their competitor, performed better if they had indirect influence on Twitter—getting their tweets shared by users whose own tweets are widely shared. The effect of indirect influence on election outcomes was more pronounced in races with larger financial inequities between candidates or fewer total expenses across candidates. Moreover, poorer candidates with indirect influence saw smaller vote gaps than their party’s candidate in the same district (in House races) or state (in Senate races) in 2014.
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Over the last decade, there has been an increased focus among researchers on the role of the Internet among actors and groups across the political and ideological spectrum. There has been particular emphasis on the ways that far-right extremists utilize forums and social media to express ideological beliefs through sites affiliated with real-world extremist groups and unaffiliated websites. The majority of research has used qualitative assessments or quantitative analyses of keywords to assess the extent of specific messages. Few have considered the breadth of extremist ideologies expressed among participants so as to quantify the proportion of beliefs espoused by participants. This study addressed this gap in the literature through a content analysis of over 18,000 posts from eight far-right extremist forums operating online. The findings demonstrated that the most prevalent ideological sentiments expressed in users’ posts involved anti-minority comments, though they represent a small proportion of all posts made in the sample. Additionally, users expressed associations to far-right extremist ideologies through their usernames, signatures, and images associated with their accounts. The implications of this analysis for policy and practice to disrupt extremist movements were discussed in detail.