Speaker: Mitts, T. (Columbia University)
Date: 13 November 2019
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Tamar Mitts (Columbia University) as a part of its SMA CENTCOM Speaker Series. During her brief, Dr. Mitts presented her research, which focuses on extremists’ extensive use of social media and online platforms to interact with others who consume and spread violent extremist content and organize violent activity. Dr. Mitts stated that today, there is a tremendous amount of public data available on extremists’ online behavior. She used this data to explain how social media facilitates violent extremism and to shed light on the drivers of violent extremism in the digital age. Dr. Mitts then presented a few of her primary findings regarding why some individuals living in Western countries begin supporting groups like ISIS. She explained that ISIS propaganda contained many themes appealing to individuals living in Western countries. Moreover, she stated that anti-Muslim hostility may be a factor in driving pro-ISIS radicalization in Western Europe. She elaborated that experiencing discrimination can lead to radicalization and that anti-immigrant hostility inhibits integration, which consequently increases social isolation. Thus, ISIS members may be taking advantage of these tendencies and exploiting anti-Muslim hostility by providing an alternative “virtual community” on social media platforms. Dr. Mitts then discussed the link between “offline” hostility and “online” radicalization. She explained that she used geo-referenced data from CtrlSec on the online behavior of thousands of ISIS sympathizers in France, the UK, Germany, and Belgium in order to determine whether the intensity of anti-Muslim hostility in the “offline” world is linked to “online” pro-ISIS radicalization on Twitter. Through this study, she found that local-level measures of anti-Muslim animosity correlate significantly and substantively with indicators of online radicalization. Furthermore, events stirring anti-Muslim hostility in Europe tend to increase pro-ISIS rhetoric on Twitter, especially in areas where hostility is high. To conclude, Dr. Mitts stated that studying radicalization on social media is likely to become more important over time as extremists continue to misuse online platforms. She also stated that there is untapped potential in combining “online” and “offline” data, social media data do not capture all offline behaviors, and it is still hard to predict when online hate will result in offline violence.
To access an audio recording of the session, please email Ms. Nicole Peterson (firstname.lastname@example.org).