Counter-Intuitive: Strategic Communications' Role in P/CVE 'Counternarratives'

  • Munir Zamir

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The objective of this study was to analyse the effectiveness of online strategic communication initiatives in the field of Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE). Challenging extremist ideas online and offline is important for national security. Governments, civil society groups and tech companies are all involved in this effort. The continuous growth of online extremist content has prompted the P/CVE sector to implement numerous initiatives. These primarily focus on countering the appeal of extremist ideology by utilising communication, persuasion, and redirection strategies. Such efforts are clearly complex in nature and not simply a case of creating messages to persuade people. Known as ‘counternarrative’ or ‘counterspeech’ communications, these online campaigns are not always well-researched or effectively evaluated. Lack of source information and primary data due to security concerns are common themes in this regard. They also appear to somewhat overlook the central role of human agency in the context of how choices and actions are manifested. This study examined online messages that seek to counter violent extremism. The goal was to improve how these messages are created and used.

    In order to pursue this objective, an in-depth examination of the concepts of radicalisation and deradicalisation was conducted. This was supported by a comparative analysis of socialisation theory within a political socialisation context. To place these ideas within a relevant operational framework, the Reasoned Action Model (RAM) of behaviour change management was employed and adapted to address the unique requirements of the online P/CVE sector. The researcher integrated these features to create a hybrid framework specifically designed for the purposes of this study, referred to as the Socialisation and Reasoned Action Strategic Communication (SoRaSCo) model. Subsequently, this was employed in three distinct and innovative prevention and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) initiatives, including case-study comparative analysis. These included the 'Abdullah-X' campaign, Meta's ‘counter conversations’, and Google's ‘search redirect’.

    The study's results indicate that the concepts of radicalisation and deradicalisation possess use; nevertheless, their effectiveness is contingent upon the incorporation of socialisation processes. In the absence of such processes, these notions tend to become excessively abstract, exhibiting a tendency towards either excessive generality or excessive specificity. The utilisation of these principles in the formulation of strategic communication endeavours has rendered the prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE) sector excessively foreseeable in its approach to combating extremist narratives on digital platforms. This relates to the design and measurement requirements of such efforts, frequently leading to the dissemination of counter narrative campaigns and initiatives that have limited impact and lack longevity. Socialization theory as applied to human agency and behaviour can inform the development of user-engaged, feedback-driven, and iterative counternarratives for P/CVE. This approach, informed by signs, symbols, and interpretive sociology, can enhance the credibility, effectiveness, and durability of counternarratives.
    Date of Award2024
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorChristian Kaunert (Supervisor), Joana Lopes De Deus Pereira (Supervisor) & Sarah Leonard (Supervisor)

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