An audience-focused approach to examining religious extremism online
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Interest in the phenomenon of religion and the Internet extends to the use of the Internet by radical or extremist religious groups. Recent events in international terrorism have led government agencies and the academic community to conclude that the Internet plays a role in the radicalisation of individuals towards extremist violence. The literature on the extremism and radicalisation reflects an acknowledgement, although developing understanding, of the role of the Internet in the process of individual radicalisation towards extremist ideologies. Much of the examination of this phenomenon is conducted through content analysis examining how extremist groups incorporate the use of new media into their recruitment and communication strategies. Motivated by the question of what compels individuals to engage with extremist content on the Internet, this article proposes a different approach to examining the phenomenon of extremism on the Internet: one that mirrors the shift in media research from textual analysis to a focus on the audience and the context of media use. The first half of this article examines how the Internet and social media practices represent a discursive relocation of the Islamic tradition of discussing religious disputes. The second half explores the contemporary context of Muslim audiences and their media needs and relates this to the phenomenon of Internet radicalisation.
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