Do Machines Replicate Humans? Toward a Unified Understanding of Radicalizing Content on the Open Social Web

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

The advent of the Internet inadvertently augmented the functioning and success of violent extremist organizations. Terrorist organizations like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) use the Internet to project their message to a global audience. The majority of research and practice on web-based terrorist propaganda uses human coders to classify content, raising serious concerns such as burnout, mental stress, and reliability of the coded data. More recently, technology platforms and researchers have started to examine the online content using automated classification procedures. However, there are questions about the robustness of automated procedures, given insufficient research comparing and contextualizing the difference between human and machine coding. This article compares output of three text analytics packages with that of human coders on a sample of one hundred nonindexed web pages associated with ISIS. We find that prevalent topics (e.g., holy war) are accurately detected by the three packages whereas nuanced concepts (Lone Wolf attacks) are generally missed. Our findings suggest that naïve approaches of standard applications do not approximate human understanding, and therefore consumption, of radicalizing content. Before radicalizing content can be automatically detected, we need a closer approximation to human understanding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)109-138
Number of pages30
JournalPolicy and Internet
Volume12
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020

Keywords

  • LIWC
  • counter terrorism
  • latent dirichlet allocation
  • n-grams
  • social media
  • violent extremist organizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Administration
  • Health Policy
  • Computer Science Applications

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