Assessment of the State of Knowledge: Connections Between Research on the Social Psychology of the Internet and Violent Extremism

Currently, a gap in the literature exists on the link between radicalization processes and
the social psychology of the Internet. While radicalization processes are increasingly
becoming subject to empirical studies, only a subset of these studies have taken into
account online dynamics, and even fewer have approached this issue from a social psychological
perspective. However, the literature on radicalization to violent extremism clearly establishes
the central role of social psychology. It also suggests that the Internet is increasingly salient for
understanding processes of radicalization. It follows then, that understanding radicalization processes
requires an explanation of how the Internet may influence beliefs and behaviours; that is,
of the social psychology of the Internet.
This report outlines the link between the social psychology of the Internet and violent extremism.
It is divided into two parts. The first part, provides a review of the literature on the
social psychology of the Internet, including its potential applications to the understanding of
violent extremism. This section examines both the individual and collective dimensions involved
when individuals reach out and interact online with like-minded virtual peers, and their effects
on individual and collective behaviours. Concepts defined in the literature review are then applied
to analyze fifteen case studies of individuals whose involvement in violent extremist acts
has been confirmed, and where the Internet played a role, small or large, in their radicalization
trajectory. These fifteen cases aim to achieve maximum variance in regard to the role the Internet
played in radicalization processes across individuals. All cases are from open sources, all are
relevant to Canada although some cases selected include individuals active in (or coming from)
other countries. The aim is to provide a clear assessment of the aspects of the literature from the
research field of the social psychology of the Internet that has been shown most relevant to violent

The second part of the report builds off the literature review and case study analysis, looking
at programs that aim to counter violent extremism online. This section can be broken down
into two sub-sections. First a review of the literature on countering violent extremism online is

Tags: Counternarratives, CVE, Radicalisation, Social Media