Radical research

Samples of Rogers’ data is displayed in Cushwa Hall. Photo by Matt Sotlar / The Jambar

By Matthew Sotlar / The Jambar

Youngstown State University recently received nearly $450,000 from the National Institute of Defense to fund YSU’s “Research and Evaluation on Domestic Radicalization and Violent Extremism.”

The project’s goal is to collect online content deemed “radical” or “extremist” in order to examine and make connections between different extremist groups and ideologies.

Richard Rogers, an associate professor of criminal justice, is the project’s principal investigator. Rogers said the project’s data is collected from different areas across the internet.

“It’s a big data project,” Rogers said. “Data is being collected from social media, from discussion boards and websites, all places that focus on misinformation, extremism and conspiracism. So, we’re not talking about Facebook, Twitter, or those kinds of things.”

The project focuses on both sides of the political spectrum. Rogers said the project does not discriminate based on political affiliation.

“These issues are both on the right and left, and we are looking at both. You do hear this in popular discussions, there’s a lot of focus on groups like Neo-Nazis, and people say, ‘Well what about the left?’ We will have the ability to compare the two different sides,” Rogers said.

One aspect of the project is to understand violent extremist content. Rogers said his job is to find connections between the different types of data collected.

“We have over 14 million pieces of text that have at least 30 words. So, we’re developing a methodology that we can go through that [data] with and measure the level of violence and see what ideas it correlates with,” Rogers said.

Since the project strays away from mainstream media, researchers actively seek new material across the internet. Rogers said extremist websites tend to share a common theme with one another.

“A lot of them are sites and locations that work specifically in white extremism or on the left, overtly socialist. Some of the Q-Anon material, these are sites that are openly Q-Anon. I’d like to say we have the Q-Anon home world as one of the sites we’re looking at,” Rogers said.

Rogers said there was a spike in content following the Israeli-Hamas war, but a decrease after the beginning of 2024.

“It’s just not trendy to talk about these political issues right now. The one place we did see an uptick is in October with the start of the war in Gaza, and you could see that on both sides. There’s kind of an antisemitic extreme left and antisemitic extreme right, and both of them saw some spiking of activity,” Rogers said.

The project is set to run until 2028. Rogers said he and his team are hoping to see trends within the data when it concludes.

“When we get to the end, around year three in the grant, what we’ll really be looking at from all of the coding and things we’ve done to get up to that point is whether there is this convergence of ideas that is emerging,” Rogers said.

New data is uploaded at the end of each month. Anyone can view the data by going to rogersperspectives.com.

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