Characteristics of ‘Abstract Radicalization’ Online

Some differences between personal, groomer-led radicalization and abstract, impersonal radicalization online:

Personal radicalization online // Abstract, impersonal radicalization online

  • one-on-one communication <-> content browsing, choice, and reception
  • temporal availability <-> content availability 24/7
  • communication often difficult to establish <-> easily accessible online content (where not censored/filtered)
  • ephemeral communication <-> possibility of repetitive reception
  • personal (assigned) status <-> content perceived as authoritative
  • personal charisma of a groomer <-> effective textual or audiovisual content
  • issues of interpersonal trust <-> possibly monitored online behavior
  • topical, cognitive affinity <-> cognitive affinity with content
  • interpersonal affinity <-> emotional affinity with content
  • personally tailored communication <-> static or interactively consumed content
  • evolving one-on-one or group conversation <-> more linear reception and psychological processing within specific units of content
  • dynamic personal persuasion <-> generic, but not necessarily sterile textual or audiovisual persuasion
  • talk/chat <-> web searches or browsing, followed by online reception of different formats of content
  • imposed or interpersonally chosen topics <-> content selection on platforms/across platforms

Abstract radicalization takes place on the agency level, whereas content is text, or audiovisual content as such, instead of representing a living person. One is not to ask ‘Who radicalized the individual?’ but instead ‘Who or what radicalized the individual?’

As the above list shows, abstract radicalization might be more likely to occur than groomer-led radicalization, for reasons of availability of content, and of comfort. As far as status, charisma and affinity are concerned, these might more often than not match, in the framework of abstract radicalization – given the ability of a partly self-radicalizing individual to actively search for fitting content, or the existence of prepared links of similar material, bearing complementary content, within specific units of content.

Due to the fact that online radicalization is often thought to occur on a personal level, and often falsely, or subjectively so, as well as for a lack of available scientific data concerning abstract radicalization, this topic is highly under-researched.

The key question is not whether abstract radicalization can or cannot be similarly relevant to committing acts of violent extremism as groomer-led radicalization. Rather, the question is in how far abstract radicalization can lay the ideological and emotional groundwork for violent extremism.

Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip
25 April 2020

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