Analyzing Offline Versus Online Radicalisation

Global Network on Extremism & Technology (GNET) has released Offline Versus Online Radicalisation: Which is the Bigger Threat? Tracing Outcomes of 439 Jihadist Terrorists Between 2014–2021 in 8 Western Countries. Social media and online platforms have made terrorist-group materials increasingly accessible.  Governments and the general public worldwide are continuously more aware of online radicalisation, and the level at which young men and women are being recruited by members of jihadist groups. This has led to stricter user guidelines within online communities, and the removal of content and profiles linked to terrorist groups.

While much of the recruitment and grooming begins online, this report by GNET finds the majority of the radicalisation process happens offline. GNET created a database containing 439 perpetrators and every completed attack between January 2014 and January 2021 in eight western countries (Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States). Of the 439 individuals, 238 were determined to have been radicalised offline. Based on an analysis of this data, five categories were created to identify how perpetrators become radicalised:

  • Mostly offline: The individual appeared to have been radicalised through contact with relatives, friends, or like-minded people within offline settings such as mosques or prisons.
  • Mostly online: The individual appeared to have been radicalsed through various online settings and social media platforms by recruiters and like-minded individuals.
  • Both: Online and offline settings both played an overlapping role in recruitment and radicalisation of the individual.
  • Online asocial radicalisation: Individuals with no online or offline social connections have been radicalised by online propaganda.
  • Unknown: There was contradictory or insufficient data to determine how an individual was radicalised.

Although online and offline factors are crucial to identifying radicalisation patterns, the authors suggest that major life stressors such as coming from a broken family, or falling into a life of crime may often be the root cause. Feeling marginalized by society, these individuals are likely to spend a significant amount of time online where they may encounter and build a relationship with a member of IS.

The findings of this report imply policy recommendations for governments around the world and stakeholders who are concerned with keeping their people safe. GNET, as well as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) continue to advise and support technology companies and policymakers to improve prevention and response measures to extremist attacks.

For additional information, check out HSDL’s Featured Topics on Domestic Terrorism and Global Terrorism. Please note an HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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