Brief – Sociological and Psychological views of Extremism on the Web   1 comment

Posted at 4:17 pm in Psychology,Sociology


Core Sociological and Psychological views of Extremism on the Web.


Recent articles such as Gerstenfeld’s “Hate Online: A Content Analysis of Extremist Internet Sites” have shown that extremist groups are using the web as a communication and promotion tool, uniting people with a common cause that is not necessarily tolerated in the offline world.  Some of the core themes of psychology and sociology explain why extremism is becoming more prevelant on the web than ever before, for example: the anonymity, security and community offered by online communications allows people to express feelings that they may have otherwise kept to themselves; the location-independent online world allows disparate groups, united by religious or political ideals, to come together and share their views.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee envisaged an ‘open’ web when he created WorldWideWeb in 1989.  The ideal that the web should be free to use and edit by anyone is open to abuse, but are extremist or hate websites abuse of this or part of the openness of the web?  As such should these types of online communities be allowed to exist freely or should they be censored?

Looking at the core textbooks in psychology and sociology allows an insight into the reasons for the prevalence of extremist web sites and discussion groups, from the point of view of a pre-web world, or at least looking at the core reasons for this behaviour.

The core sociological and psychological views on extremist behaviour will be translated to the online world in an effort to explain why hate groups and extremist websites are prevalent on the web, as well as providing an insight into the impact of censorship of such sites.


  • Introduction to social psychology: a European perspective. Miles Hewstone, Wolfgang Stroebe
  • Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior. Dennis Coon, John O. Mitterer
  • Sociology: a global introduction. John J. Macionis, Kenneth Plummer
  • Thinking sociologically. Zygmunt Bauman, Tim May

Relevant / Recent:

  • Sociology in the Age of the Internet (Sociology and Social Change). Cavanagh
  • The Social Net: Human behavior in cyberspace. Amichai-Hamburger
  • The Psychology of Religion: An Empirical Approach. Ralph W. Hood, Jr., Peter C. Hill, Bernard Spilka

Written by Simon Hearne on February 16th, 2010

One Response to 'Brief – Sociological and Psychological views of Extremism on the Web'

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  1. I haven’t commented on your second post – but it looked as though you had found some useful ways into thinking about psychological aspects of group behaviour. I am not clear at this stage if your focus is on groups (wide) or extremists (maybe more focussed) …and sense that you may be unsure. From the point of view of sociology some more general reading around the sociology of religion and of social movements – both of which should be covered in the general texts you have might help get a handle on this. As with so many of the questions we ask you on this MSc the heart of this is does what we know (from sociology or psychology) about the offline world help us understand the way these phenomena manifest on the web (is the kind of grouping/action we get via the web just the same old same old, or is is something new?)

    Catherine Pope

    14 Mar 10 at 3:23 pm

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