On Monday, the Washington Free Beacon reported that Barack Obama’s Justice Department has awarded $585,719 to Michigan State University in order to study social media usage in an effort to combat violent extremism. But, Elizabeth Harrington said, the study will draw more from so-called “right-wing forums” than from sites frequented by Islamic extremists.
“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,” said the grant description provided by the National Institute of Justice. “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.”
According to the grant, posts will be collected from four unnamed “active forums” used by “members of the far-right…” By comparison, the study will look at posts from three sites used by “the Islamic Extremist community, as well as posts made in Facebook, LiveJournal, Twitter, YouTube, and Pastebin accounts used by members of each movement.”
“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 explains. “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 grant says. Harrington said the results of the study “will be used for a public webinar, and for presentations for counterterrorism experts in the United States.”
The so-called “far-right” groups were not identified, Harrington added. But, she noted, agencies of the federal government have “devoted their energy to the sovereign citizen movement.” A 2009 DHS report also named returning combat veterans as a potential terrorist threat, and the military has stirred controversy with training that classified evangelical Christians and some Catholics as extremists along with al-Qaeda, Hamas and the KKK.
In February, Harrington said, then-Attorney General Eric Holder praised the study at a White House summit on violent extremism. In addition to the Michigan project, he noted one at Arkansas State University that would “study the role that online social media plays in radicalization, and will help us develop more effective techniques and partnerships for counter-messaging.”