Feeling terrified? Emotions and online violent extremism

Lise Waldek*, Julian Droogan, Catharine Lumby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


Violent extremist propaganda when accessed online or through social media provokes a wide array of emotional responses, from anger, frustration and humiliation across to excitement, laughter and, even, love and compassion. Yet as noted by Wright-Neville and Smith (2009), despite the growing acceptance of emotions as a critical dynamic within terrorist’s strategies and behaviours, the role of emotion remains largely absence in the terrorism studies literature.
The majority of research into online violent extremist content has largely focused on understanding the content itself; the platforms used for its dissemination, and how it fits with the aims and objectives of its producers. These studies reveal a great deal about the aims and objectives of violent extremist organisations who generally seek to provoke emotions such a fear (in order to terrify and provide leverage for their aims) or grief, excitement and the will to act (in order to elicit support from target groups). This has resulted in the conceptualisation of audiences exposed to online violent extremist propaganda, particularly youth, as passive and vulnerable; a mass of individuals primed for radicalisation to violence, often by virtue of cursory traits such as demographics or religious belief (Sageman 2014). The effect is the removal of the agency of the audience believed to be ‘at-risk’, and the silencing of the diverse emotional and behavioural responses and engagements that occur in response to exposure to the increasingly ubiquitous range of online violent extremist material. This silence represents a critical gap in the current research environment, the filling of which would be the aim of this book.
The proposed short monograph provides an alternative conceptualization of the audience. Drawing from a wide-ranging body of literature in the field of media studies, it conceives of the audience as an active agent in communication processes; both a dynamic consumer and producer of materials with diverse emotional responses to online violent extremist content (Boyd 2014; Crawford and Lumby 2014; Burgess and Green 2009). This book sets out the findings drawn from research conducted as part of an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant into youth perceptions, emotional responses and engagements with online violent extremist content. The empirical findings incorporate the outputs from a survey of 1000 young people from across New South Wales conducted in June 2018 and a series of semi-structured focus groups in six NSW Schools due to be completed in October 2019.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge, UK
PublisherCambridge University Press (CUP)
Publication statusIn preparation - 30 Jan 2021

Publication series

NameHistories of Emotions and Senses: Elements
PublisherCambridge University Press

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