By Elizabeth Harrington
The Department of Justice is concentrating on “far-right” groups in a new study of social media usage aimed at combatting violent extremism.
The Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice (NIJ) awarded Michigan State University $585,719 for the study, which was praised by Eric Holder, the former attorney general, earlier this year.
“There is currently limited knowledge of the role of technology and computer mediated communications (CMCs), such as Facebook and Twitter, in the dissemination of messages that promote extremist agendas and radicalize individuals to violence,” according to the NIJ grant. “The proposed study will address this gap through a series of qualitative and quantitative analyses of posts from various forms of CMC used by members of both the far-right and Islamic extremist movements.”
The study draws more upon right-wing forums than upon the corners of the web inhabited by Islamist extremists.
“We will collect posts made in four active forums used by members of the far-right and three from the Islamic Extremist community, as well as posts made in Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, YouTube, and Pastebin accounts used by members of each movement,” the grant said.
“The findings will be used to document both the prevalence and variation in the ideological content of posts from members of each movement,” the grant continued. “In addition, we will assess the value of these messages in the social status of the individual posting the message and the function of radical messages in the larger on-line identity of participants in extremist communities generally.”
The project will also “identify the hidden networks of individuals who engage in extremist movements based on geographic location and ideological similarities.”
The results will be used for a public webinar, and for presentations for counterterrorism experts in the United States.
Holder highlighted the study in remarks this February at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, as an example of the new methods the Justice Department is using to combat terrorist threats.
Holder said the study will “help us develop more effective techniques and partnerships for counter-messaging.”
While the grant does not name the “far-right” groups that would be examined, other federal agencies have devoted their energy to the sovereign citizen movement.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report on the movement, whose members believe that U.S. laws do not apply to them, just as the White House held its summit on violent extremism. The administration did not use the phrase “Islamist extremism” at the summit.
DHS stirred controversy in 2009 when it issued a report on right-wing extremism, which included veteransreturning from combat as a potential terrorist threat.
The Justice Department and Michigan State University did not return requests for comment by press time.