Getting out of the Armchair: Potential Tipping Points for Online Radicalisation

Getting out of the Armchair: Potential Tipping Points for Online Radicalisation

Omer Ali Saifudeen (National Security Coordination Secretariat, Prime Minister's Office, Singapore)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0156-5.ch007


This chapter will explore possible factors (both online and real world) that can ‘tip' an ‘armchair jihadi' towards real world extremism. This entails examining social psychological research on tipping points that can be translated to the process of radicalisation. Prominent cases of jihadists will then be examined to illustrate the physiognomies behind their tipping points and the applicability of such theories. Finally, strategies to incorporate tipping point mechanisms towards countering violent extremism will be discussed. This chapter emphasises how the key to understanding tipping points in extremism lies in understanding the cognitive, social and emotive barriers to extremist thinking and action. There is thus an imperative need for more research and experimentation on persuasion tactics and in particular tipping points. Extremist counter-narratives can only be successful if they incorporate the energies of youth and other key individuals at the grassroots towards crafting, spreading and adding credibility to counter-narratives.
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Epistemology Of Tipping Points

One of the earliest uses of the term ‘tipping points’ in sociology can be seen in the pioneering work of Morton Grodzins who observed how in a particular neighbourhood in the late 1950s, white individuals who lived in areas dominated by non-whites started moving out in droves when the number of non-whites exceeded a certain threshold (Grodzins, 1958, 2007; “The original tipping point”, 2009). Mark Granovetter (1978) later expanded on this concept in his threshold model. In this model, Granovetter stated that individual behaviour is contingent on those who are already partaking in that behaviour. It is not simply about following others or about being influenced by them. Rather, the tipping point depends on the number of individuals who eventually ascribe to the act and is based on a cost-benefit calculation for partaking in the act or leaving it.

Applying this to the radicalisation process, an individual may choose to join an extremist group at a threshold point where the cost of partaking is low compared to the benefits of being in the group, and vice-versa for leaving. Different individuals naturally have varying thresholds (Granovetter, 1978). The key contribution from the threshold model is in revealing the importance of barriers to action as compared to simply focusing on forces of attraction. These barriers (i.e., threshold points) are in fact synonymous with the idea of what tipping points actually constitute. Over time, social interaction models have also recognised that one’s choices are at times dependant on the choices of others following their interactions, and this leads to a complex dynamic with ‘multiple equilibrium and tipping points’ (Card, Mas, & Rothstein, 2007).

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