The VOX-Pol Network of Excellence (NoE) is a European Union Framework Programme 7 (FP7)-funded academic research network focused on researching the prevalence, contours, functions, and impacts of Violent Online Political Extremism and responses to it.
What is meant by ‘violent online political extremism’? VOX-Pol’s interest is in exploring how violent extremist politics plays out ‘online,’ by which is generally meant the Internet. In terms of the type of politics being referred to, it is political activity situated at the outermost ends (i.e. the extremities) of any political spectrum. The centre of any such spectrum is generally held to be moderate; extremism may thus be conceived as the opposite, in either direction, of moderation. The problem with this approach however is that it is highly dependent on identification of the ‘centre’ (i.e. moderates), which in itself can be a highly subjective decision. The qualifier ‘violent’ is therefore employed here to describe VOX-Pol’s interest, which is in those that employ or advocate physical violence against other individuals and groups to forward their political objectives.
The extremist nature of the politics in which VOX-Pol is interested is thus not decided upon by project participants, but by the decision of those involved in particular types of politics to advocate or employ violence to advance their goals.
Why not employ more common terms such as ‘terrorism’ or ‘radicalisation’? There is no universally accepted definition of what constitutes terrorism and, in fact, the concept of ‘terrorism’ is highly contested and viewed by many with suspicion. For VOX-Pol’s purposes it is agreed that all acts of terrorism are of an extremist nature, but not all violent extremism fits common definitions of terrorism. The discourse of ‘violent radicalisation,’ on the other hand, has come to be associated almost exclusively with jihadi terrorism, but may conceivably be extended to national-separatists, the far Right, the extreme Left, etc. Either way, the role of the Internet in processes of violent online radicalisation and ultimately terrorism is a live issue and falls squarely within the remit of VOX-Pol.
The aim of the VOX-Pol Network of Excellence (NoE) is the comprehensive exploration of the many varieties of Violent Online Political Extremism, its societal impacts, and responses to it. To this end, project partners combine complementary expertise from a range of disciplines (e.g. Communications, Computer Science, Criminology, Ethics, International Relations, Politics).