Shedding light on the evolution of extremist groups – Eurasia Review
Early online support for the Boogaloos, one of the groups involved in the January 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, followed the same mathematical pattern as ISIS, despite the ideological, geographic and cultural differences between their forms of ‘extremism. That’s the conclusion of a new study published by researchers at George Washington University.
“This study provides insight into the emergence of extremist movements in the United States and around the world,” said Neil Johnson, professor of physics at GW. “By identifying common patterns hidden in what appear to be completely independent movements, accompanied by a rigorous mathematical description of their development, our findings could help social media platforms disrupt the growth of these extremist groups,” Johnson, who is also a researcher at the GW Institute for Data, Democracy & Politics, added.
The study, published in the journal Scientific reports, compares the growth of the Boogaloos, an extremist group based in the United States, to online support of Daesh, a militant terrorist organization based in the Middle East. The Boogaloos are an unorganized, pro-gun rights movement bracing for civil war in the United States. In contrast, ISIS adheres to a specific ideology, a radicalized form of Islam, and is responsible for terrorist attacks across the world.
Johnson and his team collected data by observing online public communities on social media platforms for Boogaloos and ISIS. They found that the evolution of the two movements follows a single mathematical shock wave equation.
The results suggest the need for specific policies aimed at limiting the growth of these extremist movements. The researchers point out that online extremism can lead to real-world violence, such as the attack on the U.S. Capitol, an attack that included members of the Boogaloo movement and other American extremist groups.
Social media platforms are struggling to control the growth of extremism online, according to Johnson. They often use a combination of content moderation and active promotion of users who deliver counter posts. The researchers point out the limitations of both approaches and suggest that new strategies are needed to tackle this growing threat.
“A key aspect that we have identified is how these extremist groups come together and combine into communities, a quality we call their ‘collective chemistry,'” said Yonatan Lupu, associate professor of political science at GW and co- author of the article. “Despite the sociological and ideological differences of these groups, they share a similar collective chemistry when it comes to how communities develop. This knowledge is essential in identifying how to slow them down or even prevent them from forming. “