Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Periodic Report Summary 2 - VOX-POL (Virtual Centre of Excellence for Research in Violent Online Political Extremism)

Project Context and Objectives:
VOX-Pol is a 60-month, €5.13 million Network of Excellence project that integrates the world’s leading researchers and research groups in Violent Online Political Extremism, to include those researching the intersection of terrorism and the Internet (incl. violent jihadists, violent separatists, etc.), the online activities of the extreme Right, the potential for violent online radicalisation, and related topics, in order to:

1. Create a sustainable critical mass of innovative activity among what is currently a burgeoning, but fragmented group of researchers and research topics;
2. Ensure that EU and Member State strategies and policies targeting violent online political extremism are based on concrete evidence, experience, and knowledge about the contours and workings of violent online political extremism thus increasing their likelihood of success.

VOX-Pol (Violent Online Political Extremism) is led by Dublin City University and has eight additional partner institutions: King’s College London, University of Oxford, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Central European University, Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH) at the University of Hamburg, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology—Delhi (IIITD), and University College London.

The VOX-Pol team is multi-disciplinary, drawing on Communications, Computer Science, Criminology, Ethics, International Relations, and Politics.

Since the project’s kick-off in January 2014, VOX-Pol has been working to:

• Integrate and network the research activities of those, within the EU and globally, working in the area of violent online extremism;
• Create and develop long-term relationships between established national research groups, new researchers and research groups, security practitioners, the Internet industry, civil society, and policymakers;
• Produce new analytical tools and methodologies for research into the prevalence, contours, functions, and impacts of violent online political extremism;
• Raise awareness of the challenges of research and decision-making in this area by exploring the interplay of e-research ethics, privacy, surveillance, freedom of speech, and practices of and responses to violent online extremism and terrorism;
• Influence research agendas on the European and world stages in key aspects of violent online extremism and responses to it.

Project Results:
In February 2014, VOX-Pol launched a website,, to disseminate information about the Network and its activities and provide visitors access to resources related to the field. In October 2014, a weekly Blog was added to the site, contributions to which are made by graduate students, faculty, independent and other researchers. By mid-June 2016, over 17,000 users from 156 countries had accessed VOX-Pol’s website over 26,500 times for over 54,500 page views.
VOX-Pol has also developed a substantial online social media presence, with accounts on Twitter, YouTube, and Storify. By mid-June 2016 @VOX_Pol had over 1,300 Followers on Twitter and its YouTube channel, which presently hosts a collection of 57 videos related to research on violent online political extremism and terrorism, was viewed over 3,400 times. In addition to social media, VOX-Pol also disseminates information on its activities and events to a wide audience through its Quarterly Newsletter, which has over 1,300 subscribers across the globe.
During the period from 1 January 2014 – 30 June 2016, VOX-Pol hosted ten events in seven European cities: a Summer School in Dublin; the inaugural VOX-Pol Conference in London; a workshop on Behavioural Underpinnings of Violent Online Political Extremism in Berlin; a workshop on the Ethics and Politics of Online Monitoring of Violent Extremism in Brussels; a workshop on the Role of Social Media and Internet Companies in Responding to Violent Online Extremism in Budapest; the inaugural VOX-Pol Training Academy in Valencia; the inaugural Lunch Briefing Series in London; a workshop on the Discourse of Online Radicalisation in Hamburg; the Mid-Project Conference in Dublin; and a NATO Advanced Research Workshop in Dublin.

Each event attracted the participation of substantial numbers of academics and researchers in fields related to violent online political extremism as well as law enforcement personnel, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists, policymakers and others professionally tasked in the area.

Throughout the period, research was also undertaken by partners into developing and/or refining tools for data collection and analysis. These include a Lexicon or dictionary of common violent online extremist terms and concepts, a Directed Crawler for searching out violent extremist content online, an Ontology or map of violent extremist cyberspaces, and a suite of text, image, video, sentiment analysis, and social network analysis tools. It is planned to integrate many of these tools and services into an online platform, portions of which (e.g. Ontology) have already been made accessible to the research community.

Also in 2015, VOX-Pol added an Online Library to its website, providing visitors with an easily accessible and searchable collection of publications related to violent online political extremism and terrorism. The Library contains links to hundreds of scientific journal articles, policy papers and reports, books, PhD theses, and other material.

VOX-Pol also began publishing its original research online and in hardcopy in late 2015, initially commencing with a series of reports arising from our 2014 and 2015 workshops.
VOX-Pol’s Researcher Mobility Programme (RMP) was active throughout the review period. IFSH, DCU, and UvA were each pleased to host our 2015 – 2016 Research Fellow, Dr. Matti Pohjonen, for portions of his 12-month posting.

VOX-Pol’s growing profile has resulted in increased interest regarding the short-term opportunities provided by the RMP. Just one external research visit took place in Period 1, however 6 took place/are ongoing in the present review period and two further applications are currently under consideration. Outputs to-date have included blog posts, journal articles, and one forthcoming VOX-Pol report; other outputs are in-progress.

Potential Impact:
VOX-Pol is expected to greatly improve integration of fragmented research in the field of violent online political extremism and boost related learning and training activities. As a consequence, VOX-Pol will significantly impact the future direction of this new field. It will also significantly influence European and global policy discussion on violent online political extremism, its impacts, and responses to it, as well as enhance teaching, learning, and training for PhD students, young researchers, and all those with professional interests in violent online political extremism MISM. At a technical level, VOX-Pol plans on harnessing and deploying several types of tools for analysis of online content, exploiting complementarity between text, audio, video, sentiment, and social network analysis applications, and eventually providing a Platform and services for data- driven empirical research on violent online political extremism. At the same time, the Network also has as a core mission consideration of the ethical quandaries faced by those researching and responding to violent online political extremism.
Research into violent online political extremism is still in its infancy. The careful combination of expertise and research institutes in the VOX-Pol consortium provides an effective way for the EU to lead the way on this topic. VOX-Pol is unique not just in its wide breadth and inter-disciplinarity, but also in its combination of technological tool deployment, training, and ethical aspects. We are confident that this effort will yield radically new research and analyses of violent online political extremism widely conceived and processes of violent online radicalisation particularly, thus helping to guarantee EU leadership in this research field while at the same time ensuring that policy on violent online political extremism violent online political extremism and surrounding issues is based on sound research and extensive, in-depth, and informed discussion of all relevant issues.

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