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Underestimating the power of persuasion in online radicalisation


University of Bradford PhD student, Sumaia Sabouni explores how extremists recruit and radicalise individuals online through the five principles of persuasion.

University of Bradford undergraduate student, Ms Sumaia Sabouni, along with Dr Andrea Cullen and Ms Lorna Armitage presented a paper at the Cyber Situational Awareness, Data Analytics and Assessment Conference in June 2017 on their preliminary radicalisation framework on social engineering techniques.

The ways in which extremists access targets online (e.g. through social media), has been studied extensively by researchers, but how extremists persuade people to take action (or Socially Engineer them) has been neglected. The team have therefore developed the Principles of Persuasion in Social Engineering (PPSE) framework which maps social engineering tactics to a targets’ social traits with a view to understand how and why individuals might become radicalised.

  1. Authority maps to compliance
  2. Social proof to naivety
  3. Liking to social deprivation
  4. Commitment, reciprocation and consistency to duty and
  5. Distraction emotional vulnerability.

Following a period of activities by individuals attempting to radicalise others, the thoughts, ideas and concepts become normalised and radicalisation has been “successful”. The research carried out by the team has found that extremists exploit personality traits and emotions in their targets. For example, targets who are social deprived and marginalised are more susceptible to extremists Social Engineering tactics.

The research indicates that an understanding of Social Engineering and the psychology of how it works in extremism is crucial to developing preventative techniques.

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