DeepSec 2021 Talk: Analyzing Radicalization on the Internet – Method and Results of the COMRAD-Project – Dr. Andreas Enzminger & Dr. Jürgen Grimm

Sanna/ November 17, 2021/ Conference, Internet

Incitement, radicalization, and terror are the buzzwords that currently concern us the most. Right-wing and left-wing extremist groups or religious fundamentalists act as fire accelerators for extremist tendencies, even leading to the use of political violence. In this way, they can also endanger the value-based foundations of democracy in the medium and long term.

Although much discussed, the role of the media, especially social media, in radicalization within society remains conceptually and empirically unclear. While there are several case analyses based on violent events, systematic studies have yet to be conducted. To fill this gap, the COMRAD project is dedicated to researching radicalization tendencies in cyberspace, focusing on psychosocial, ideological, and communicative conditioning factors. The focus is on the “open space” of politically left-wing, right-wing, or Islamic Facebook groups, in which recruitment strategies and camouflage techniques of extremist actors overlap. In addition, the project pursued as a methodological goal the development of a category system with the help of which conventional content analyses can be carried out on the net and used to optimize automatic content analyses.

The presentation will introduce the methodological concept RADIX, which operationalizes push and pull factors of radicalization such as segregation, world-view, moral outrage, and hostile language. Using RADIX, a total of 11,500 posts were analyzed with human coders and compared to results from automated analyses. Using structural equation modeling, it is possible to quantify the strength of the relationship between radicalization factors and use it to predict radicalization processes in defined Internet samples. Methodological and substantive consequences for radicalization research are discussed.


Please tell us the top 5 facts about your talk.

  • Radicalization is neither dangerous to democracy nor “extremist” at a basic level of system criticism
  • Hate speech hardly predicts radicalization.  Better indicators are expressions of exclusion, which are used to exclude groups from society.
  • The two strongest predictors of radicalization are conspiracy theories and moral outrage (“Robespierre effect”)
  • World-views of threat become radicalizing factors when combined with world-views of anarchy (anomie).
  • World-view hostilization – that is, the endowment of the world-view with “enemies” – is the decisive step in developing and solidifying a fundamental-oppositional militant stance.


How did you come up with it? Was there something like an initial spark that set your mind on creating this talk?

Radicalization is dangerous to democracy and divides society. On the path of polarization, division, and radicalization, we will neither meet the global challenges (pandemics, climate change, economic crisis) nor can we effectively protect democracy.

Why do you think this is an important topic?

It is an existential question. It is about society’s ability to act in crises, ultimately about the survival of humanity.

Is there something you want everybody to know – some good advice for our readers maybe?

Keep on being open-minded, even if it is hard in the Corona crisis and the climate crisis.

A prediction for the future – what do you think will be the next innovations or future downfalls when it comes to your field of expertise / the topic of your talk in particular?

The lesson of the Corona crisis is that only collective action can help us out of crisis. The temptation is to look for shortcuts to overcoming the crisis, not the least of which is radicalization. In doing so, combative vitality is conveyed (and the emotional state of mind is improved), but the problem is not eliminated. Viruses and global warming cannot be contained or mitigated by fighting, but only by acting in solidarity.

Juergen Grimm has been a professor of communication studies at the University of Vienna since 2004. Currently in the status as emeritus he is the active leader of the research project “Communication Patterns of Radicalization” (COMRAD). In 1985, he received his PhD from Siegen University with a theoretical and empirical work focused on content analysis regarding media entertainment. From 1984-1988 post-doc research assistant at the DFG- funded research project “Reality Impartment by the Mass Media” at ZUMA (Center for Surveys, Methods and Analyses). He habilitated at Mannheim University in 1998 with a study on violence depiction in TV documentaries and movies and the impact on children and adults. 1994, he has been a member of the board of trustees of the FSF (“Organization for the Voluntary Self-Regulation of Television”) in Germany. Since 2005 he has been the director of the Viennese “Forum of Methods”. Currently, he is also the leader of several research projects, e.g. “Media, Patriotism, Integration”, “Communicating History in Transnational Space”). One of his main topics is the impact of media on national identity, societal development and integration and processes of radicalization and political extremism. Grimm has published widely on depictions of media violence, war and crisis journalism, news processing, media entertainment, televised impartment of history and on methodological problems of content analyses and media effect research.

Andreas Enzminger is a postdoctoral research assistant at the Institute for Communication Management and Media, based within the Department of Foreign Language Business Communication at WU. Before joining the university in December 2020, he was based within the Institute for Communication at the University of Vienna. There, he was employed as a predoctoral researcher (2013-2019) and as a university lecturer (2016-2020), and he received his doctorate in Communication Science from the university in 2019. Andreas served as a postdoctoral researcher on the Kommunikationsmuster der Radikalisierung (COMRAD) project since 2019 and was involved in the international project TV-Geschichtsvermittlung im transnationalen Raum from 2013-2020.

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