The Identity-Extremism Nexus in Virtual Groups: The Impact of Online Group Alignment on Radicalisation Towards Violence

Previous research has shown that identity fusion can motivate violent self-sacrifice when the in-group is threatened. This thesis tests the hypothesis that a higher degree of identify fusion in online groups, coupled with a range of mediating and moderating variables, increases the likelihood of individuals to carry out violent pro-group action. Using a mixed methods approach, the project combines quantitative NLP analysis with digital ethnographic research. Based on a comparative analysis of fifteen manifestos – ranging from violent terrorist to moderate political statements – a new linguistic framework was designed to assess the risk of violence in online groups. The statistical and ethnographic findings indicate that linguistic proxies for identity fusion and other relevant variables such as existential threat narratives, violence-condoning group norms and demonising vocabulary can be reliably identified and are significantly higher in the documents of would-be terrorists. The new framework was applied to a range of online groups varying in their degree of extreme ideologies, verbal commitment to violence and real-world links to terrorist activities. The thesis argues that psychologically grounded linguistic markers are a more reliable predictor of extreme violence than taking violent threats at face value. While this project's findings should be treated with caution, they may contribute to complementing and improving existing early warning systems used by security and intelligence services. 

Graduate Research Seminars Michaelmas 2022

3.30pm on Wednesdays.

For School members only. If you are interested in attending, please contact kate.atherton (at)

Convened by David Pratten