Searching for Signs of Extremism on the Web: An Introduction to Sentiment-Based Identification of Radical Authors

As violent extremists continue to surface in online discussion forums, law enforcement agencies search for new ways of uncovering their digital indicators. Researchers have both described and hypothesized a number of ways to detect online traces of potential extremists, yet this area of inquiry remains in its infancy. This study proposes a new search method that, through the analysis of sentiment, identifies the most radical users within online forums. Although this method is applicable to web-forums of any type, the method was evaluated on four Islamic forums containing approximately 1 million posts of its 26,000 unique users. Several characteristics of each user’s postings were examined, including their posting behavior and the content of their posts. The content was analyzed using Parts-Of-Speech tagging, sentiment analysis, and a novel algorithm called ‘Sentiment-based Identification of Radical Authors’, which accounts for a user’s percentile score for average sentiment score, volume of negative posts, severity of negative posts, and duration of negative posts. The results suggest that there is no simple typology that best describes radical users online; however, the method is flexible enough to evaluate several properties of a user’s online activity that can identify radical users on the forums.

Tags: Forums, Sentiment Analysis, Violent Jihadism