Extreme Identities: A Linguistic and Visual Analysis of European Far-Right Online Communities’ Politics of Identity (ExId)

The ExId project

The ExId project offers an analysis of the European far-right online landscape, combining computational methods with in-depth qualitative analysis; it will provide dynamic analysis of both the evolution of the European far-right online landscape and its linguistic and visual content, exploring phenomena such as the impact of real-world events on websites’ content or circulation of linguistic/visual tropes across groups.

The far-right online ecosystem

Over the past years, policy-makers and intelligence professionals have witnessed a dramatic multiplication of websites promoting extreme-right wing ideas and grassroots organizations. This growth of what we can call the ‘far-right online ecosystem’ has been so fast that academics and not-academic practitioners have struggled to keep track of its development. The Extreme Identities (‘ExId’) project harnesses cutting-edge computational tools to map the entire ecosystem, identify its websites, uncover how they connect and measure their respective popularity.

Creating a new database

Hosted in three of the most dynamic hubs for research on extremist communications (Trinity College Dublin, University of Copenhagen, University of Exeter), the team will also scrape the linguistic and visual content of these thousands of platforms to constitute the largest database of far-right material to date. This extensive dataset will expose how the many far-right online communities make some socio-political issues salient and construct particular collective identities (both of themselves and their ‘enemies’) through their choices of language and visual imagery.


Project Leader:
Dr. Stephane Baele, University of Exeter (UK)

Dr. Stephane Baele (ExId Project Lead) is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Politics, University of Exeter. His multidisciplinary and multi-method research on violent political actors’ language and communications has been published by journals such as Political Psychology, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Journal of Language & Social Psychology, Journal of Global Security Studies, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, or Terrorism & Political Violence, among others. A recipient of 2 CREST awards (for research on ISIS communications than on the far-right “chan” forums), Stephane recently edited the volume “ISIS Propaganda: A Full-Spectrum Extremist Message” (with T. Coan and K. Boyd) at Oxford University Press. In addition, Dr. Baele regularly engages with a range of security and law enforcement agencies.

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Nicole Doerr, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

Dr. Nicole Doerr is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen, where she directs the Copenhagen Centre for Political Mobilisation and Social Movement Studies. Doerr’s research constructs a field of critical visual analysis in the social sciences to understand how people use visual images and digital media to influence politics and discourse. For example, Doerr compares how right-wing populist and extremist activists use visual images spread through social media to influence elections – focusing on case studies in Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Scandinavia. In contrast, she asks how left-wing and anti-racist social movements construct visual politics to promote cosmopolitan visions of solidarity on the issue of social justice, migration, democracy, gender, and sexuality. Doerr’s research has been awarded the EU Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship, the EU IPODI Fellowship, and the Harvard Ash Center Democracy Fellowship. Her 44 publications include 15 journal articles; her book Political Translation. How Social Movement Democracies Survive was published with Cambridge University Press in 2018.

Principal Investigator:
Dr. Constantine Boussalis, Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)

Dr. Constantine Boussalis is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at Trinity College Dublin. Before this appointment, he was Empirical Research Fellow at Harvard Law School from 2011 to 2014. He completed his Ph.D. in Political Science (2011) from Claremont Graduate University. His research lies at the intersection of computational social science, political communication, and political behavior. The main emphasis of Dr. Boussalis' research agenda relies on machine learning and computational methods to study politically-relevant imagery, text, and speech.

Dr. Lewys Brace, University of Exeter (UK)

Dr. Lewys Brace is a Lecturer in Data Analysis at the University of Exeter, where he is part of the Q-Step center. His research focuses on extremist radicalization and terrorism and quantitative and computational research methods for the social sciences. His research has previously appeared in Artificial Life, Terrorism and Political Violence, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, and Perspectives on Terrorism.

Dr. Travis G. Coan, University of Exeter & Exeter Q-Step Centre (UK)

Dr. Travis G. Coan is a Senior Lecturer in Quantitative Politics at the University of Exeter. He is co-director of the Exeter Q-Step Centre. In addition, he is a member of the Centre for Elections, Media, and Participation (CEMaP) and the Institute of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence (IDSAI). While Dr. Coan has published on a wide range of topics, his core research examines questions in the areas of environmental and political communication. Travis' methodological interests include Bayesian statistics, natural language processing, and computer vision.

Callum Craig, Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)

Callum Craig is a Ph.D. student with the Department of Political Science at Trinity College Dublin. He completed his undergraduate degree in History and International Relations at the Queen’s University of Belfast in 2018, where he also completed a Master’s degree in Violence, Terrorism, and Security in 2020. His research is focused on the computational identification of far-right victimization narratives and experimentally testing their effectiveness at changing attitudes towards identity groups and the far-right.

Dr. Beth Gharrity Gardner, University of Copenhagen (Denmark)

Dr. Beth Gharrity Gardner is a sociologist who works at the intersection of media, politics, and protest. Her research reflects a longstanding interest in the institutional processes through which meanings are produced and contested in ways that create social change. Gardner completed her Ph.D. from the University of California Irvine in 2016, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Francesca Polletta. Before taking up her current position as a postdoc at the Department of Sociology at the University of Copenhagen, she was a postdoctoral research associate at the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin.

Dr. Aaron Rudkin, University of California Los Angeles (USA)

Dr. Aaron Rudkin is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at University of California Los Angeles and a pre-doctoral researcher at TCD. Before graduating from school, he was a programmer and systems administrator. His methodological interests include text as data, causal inference, high-volume data scraping, and reproducibility. His substantive work focuses on elite responses to political discourse, including dissertation work on the impact of the entry of far-right parties into German state parliaments. His research has appeared in the American Political Science Review and Political Behavior. Aaron is originally from Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

Dr. Elahe Naserianhanzaei, University of Exeter (UK)

Dr. Elahe Naserianhanzaei is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Exeter’s Department of Politics. Before joining the ExId project, she worked as a computational social scientist at the University of Exeter’s Psychology Department (CLES) from 2018 to 2020. She integrated computational methods with social psychology theories to develop models that detect and trace the social group membership in linguistic patterns. Elahe studies and analyses data from social media to derive computational, large-scale data-driven insights and develop mechanisms to trace journeys into new group memberships and out of group memberships over time and understand how these journeys relate to behavior change. Trained as a computer scientist (Ph.D. in Human Movement Analysis, 2018), Elahe is passionate about problems at the intersection of computer science and social science.