This research, based at Exeter’s Q-STEP and CAIS centres, will use cutting-edge computer-assisted analysis of images and text.
Experts to develop new ways of monitoring and tackling extreme right-wing online forums
University of Exeter experts will develop new ways to better monitor activity on extreme right-wing online forums linked with terrorism as part of a major new research project.
The so-called “Chan” forums, which are open to anyone to join but hard to find via traditional search engines, have been linked with recent mass shootings in New Zealand, the US, Norway and Germany. Those who have carried out the acts used them to boast about the atrocities beforehand, and share “manifestos”.
A team led by Dr Stephane Baele and also including Dr Travis Coan and Dr Lewis Brace will help to develop more effective ways to monitor and analyse the content of these forums. This research, based at Exeter’s Q-STEP and CAIS centres, will use cutting-edge computer-assisted analysis of images and text.
The project will examine how participants in the “chans” interact and share images, which at times include neo-Nazi symbols and memes.
While the “chans” online forums began as spaces where people would discuss video games, they have over the years become more political and now contain boards where members express extreme right-wing, Islamaphobic and Anti-Semitic views. Some are country-specific, but most feature people from around the world communicating in English. As new “chans” start up when older ones are shut down by authorities or domain providers, it is not yet known how many there are in total.
Dr Baele said: “We hope our work will contribute to efforts around the world to better monitor and tackle the threat from right-wing extremists. These online forums contain extreme far-right discussions and play a role in offline acts of violence, so it is crucial that rigorous analysis is developed to better understand this online ecosystem in order to help the authorities to tackle it.”
The project, called “Mining the Chans: Exposing the Visual and Linguistic Dynamics of Radicalization in Far-right Image-boards” is funded by the Home Office via the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST). CREST, which was commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, receives the majority of its funding from the UK’s security and intelligence agencies. The Centre delivers a world-class, interdisciplinary portfolio of activity that maximises the value of behavioural and social science research to understanding, mitigating and countering threats to national security. The Centre is led by Lancaster University, alongside the co-founding universities of Bath and Portsmouth.
Date: 6 April 2020