Legal and Theoretical Frameworks for Responding to Online Political Extremism: Lessons for the Australian Context

Dr Imogen Richards1
1Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Australia

In recent years, societies internationally have experienced an intensification and escalation of online political extremism. This has related to, amongst other things, attacks perpetrated by neo-jihadist organisations, the international mobilisation of far-right political entities, and a mass displacement of people from Africa and the Middle East, in what has been described as “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations [in 1945]” (UN News 2017).

Extreme political polarisation, or the ‘hyper-tribalism’ of those with politically extreme views, has also been reinforced by these entities’ participation in social media. Political polarisation and extremism is in particular facilitated by the architectures of social media platforms, which comprise of ‘bubble bias’ algorithms, and the re-mediating functions of ‘likes’, ‘shares’, and ‘re-tweets’.

This paper reflects on characteristics of social media that can be perceived to encourage violent extremism, and legislation that has been developed internationally to prevent and counter  online violent extremist expression. It combines a socio-legal analysis of hate speech laws and national security legislation, with insights from media theory, to identify characteristics of extremist media which to this point have been under-explored and under-addressed. Drawing from high profile international cases and situations, the paper proposes policy lessons for addressing online extremism in the Australian context.

UN News 2017, “UN aid chief urges global action as starvation, famine loom for 20 million across four countries”, United Nations, accessed 30 May 2018,


Imogen is a member of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, and a lecturer in criminology at Deakin University. She has written and published on the political-economy of neo-jihadist organisations, terrorist, counterterrorist, and extremist communications, and the ethical dimensions of hacktivism, among other subjects. She has presented aspects of her work on comparative extremism research at events including the 2016 Vox-Pol: Mid-Project Conference: Taking Stock of Research on Violent Online Extremism at Dublin City University in the Republic of Ireland, and the 2017 Terrorism and Social Media conference at Swansea University in Wales.



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