Violent extremist groups are currently making intensive use of Internet fora for recruitment to terrorism. These fora are under constant scrutiny by security agencies, private vigilante groups, and hackers, who sometimes shut them down with cybernetic attacks. However, there is a lack of experimental and formal understanding of the recruitment dynamics of online extremist fora and the effect of strategies to control them.
Here, the authors utilise data on ten extremist fora that we collected for four years to develop a data-driven mathematical model that is the first attempt to measure whether (and how) these external attacks induce extremist fora to self-regulate. The results suggest that an increase in the number of groups targeted for attack causes an exponential increase in the cost of enforcement and an exponential decrease in its effectiveness. Thus, a policy to occasionally attack large groups can be very efficient for limiting violent output from these fora.
Authored by Manuel Cebrian, Manuel R. Torres, Ramon Huerta and James H. Fowler.