Swansea University is to take on the leading role in an international research network, established in 2014 with EU funding, that studies online extremism and terrorism and responses to them.
The announcement was made at the Terrorism and Social Media conference under way in Swansea. Professor Stuart Macdonald of the Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law at Swansea University will take on the co-ordinating role in the network, which is called VOX-Pol.
VOX-Pol explores how violent extremist politics plays out online. There are currently 30 institutions in the network, from 12 different countries across the UK, Europe, North America, Africa, Asia and Australasia.
Members of the network provide expertise from a range of disciplines, such as: communications, computer science, criminology, ethics, international relations and politics.
Together they provide comprehensive research, analysis, debate, and critique on the issues raised by online extremism and terrorism and responses to them, such as de-platforming, regulation, and online counter narratives.
The amount of online content promoting violent politics is increasing. Although initial concern on this issue was centred around violent jihadists, such as so-called 'Islamic State' (ISIS), VOX-Pol’s focus covers all groups who employ or advocate physical violence against other individuals and groups to forward their political objectives.
For example, the many variants of the European extreme right have a long history of internet use and an even longer history of violence and threats of violence against non-whites, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, sexual minorities, and others.
VOX-Pol also takes a broad view when it comes to sites and platforms. As well as dedicated terrorist websites, it also examines online social networking sites of various types, particularly those heavily used by younger people.
Swansea experts have already been involved in VOX-Pol but now they will be playing the main co-ordinating role. Professor Stuart Macdonald will take over from Professor Maura Conway, the founder of VOX-Pol, who is based at Dublin City University and who also holds a post at Swansea University.
The School of Law at Swansea already has established expertise in the new challenges presented by the online world. For example, it is the home of the Cyber Threats Research Centre, which explores a range of online threats: from terrorism, extremism and cybercrime to online child sexual exploitation and grooming. Its work has been presented around the world, including to the UK Home Office, US State Department, Europol and NATO.
Initiatives currently planned by VOX-Pol include:
- a guest lecture series for students at all member universities;
- a dedicated set of resources for experts, including guides on employability and on the welfare of researchers working on often difficult subjects;
- an online library for research in the field;
Professor Stuart Macdonald of Swansea University School of Law said:
“We have always worked to promote collaboration across different sectors and jurisdictions, so are delighted to have the opportunity to lead this truly international network. VOX-Pol has a reputation worldwide for producing research of the highest calibre that informs policy and practice on this important issue”.
Professor Maura Conway of Dublin City University and Swansea University, VOX-Pol founder, said:
“I’m very pleased to be handing over leadership of VOX-Pol to Prof. Macdonald at Swansea University. While I will continue to be involved with the work of the network, the transition to new leadership is a great opportunity to reinvigorate our efforts across research, partnering, events, and policy. I look forward to VOX-Pol’s continued scholarly and practical impact under Swansea’s stewardship.”