Pulling back the curtain : an examination of the English Defence League and their use of Facebook
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As social media becomes an integral part of our daily lives, and groups seek to utilize this medium to facilitate activism, understanding the nature of these communications and the impact of the content on the individual user becomes a valid area of interest. When one then considers that extremist and terrorist groups have found social media to be an inexpensive and effective means for communication, radicalization, recruitment and member mobilization, the need for this understanding becomes critical. This research seeks to provide just such an understanding in its examination of Far-Right English Defence League and their use of Facebook during a period of increased activism and online growth. Important elements of this work include an understanding of the legal and ethical issues surrounding the collection of online content, particularly in extremist environments; the role of traditional media in their coverage of the group and whether the comments of the members reflect the group’s mission statement of the characterization of traditional media; the ability to enhance data segregation and analysis through the development and use of specialized software; and most importantly the findings from the data analysis. Contained within these findings is an understanding of the intricacies of online participation in extremist social media. These include insights into overall traffic generation, the use of links within communications and their impact on the member traffic, and how the group narrative put forth by the administrator is reflected in the dialogue of the users. The most important finding was an understanding of individual user participation within the group and how, even with such an inexpensive and pervasive media outlet, activist groups still struggle to overcome the problem of participation. That this knowledge can be applied in a meaningful way in counter extremist and counter terrorism efforts was an interesting and satisfying development.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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