New Research Brief Details How U.S. Extremists Use Social Media

Newspaper placed on top of a laptop keyboard at a slight angle. The laptop screen is black.The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) has just released a research brief titled The Use of Social Media by United States Extremists. This report looks at the role emerging communication technologies, such as social media platforms play in the radicalization and mobilization process of United States extremists. START used newly collected social media activity data from 479 extremists who radicalized between 2005 and 2016 to analyze trends in the radicalization. Factors taken into account included frequency of social media usage, types of social media use by ideology and group, and the purpose of social media use.

There were four key findings from the analysis on the relationship of social media and radicalized U.S. extremists can be found below.

  1. “Online social media platforms are playing an increasingly important role in the radicalization processes of U.S. extremists.”
  2. “Lone actors” who operate alone in their extremist activities are more active on social media than extremists with group memberships or other affiliations.
  3. “Despite the increased usage of social media among U.S. extremists, user-to-user communications do not appear to increase the likelihood that extremists will be successful in traveling to foreign conflict zones or committing acts of domestic terrorism. “
  4. “While social media does not appear to increase the success rates of extremist outcomes, evidence suggests that it has contributed to the acceleration of radicalization of U.S. extremists.”

This study utilized Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States (PIRUS), a database of 1,867 Islamist, far-right, far-left, and single-issue extremists in the United States who have been radicalized from 1948-2016. More information on the PIRUS database can be found here.

The HSDL offers many additional resources related to the U.S. extremists in our special featured topic Domestic (U.S.) Terrorism. Please note: HSDL login is required to view some of these resources.

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