This study identifies symbolically significant dates for extremist groups based in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), as well as for far-right and far-left groups located around the world. Given the high frequency of terrorist attacks worldwide, identifying useful patterns based on the dates of their past occurrences of political violence remains a challenge for developing effective tracking and response. This report uses Google Trends scores and Nexis Uni data to identify important dates for extremist groups based on the largest spikes in online views and international
The report concludes that technology companies should combine symbolically significant dates into their algorithms for detecting hate speech by groups. The mention of dates that have elevated public attention in the past could serve as useful indicators for future acts of violence, extremist messaging or other events critical to such groups. Algorithms should be refined to assess attention spikes and be updated on a regular basis. They should be disaggregated for lone actors and extremist groups and entities, as the two produce distinct patterns related to attention spikes. Any changes in events associated with attention spikes should be evaluated against proto‐state definitional characteristics, as those criteria serve as indicators of the goals and violent activities posed by extremist groups.
- Dates associated with extremist events are important for attracting online and offline attention in ways that reinforce the perception that such groups appear as lasting entities, guide
the beliefs and behaviours of followers and predict future events.
- Key dates for MENA‐based extremist groups tend to be those associated with the six definitional characteristics of a proto‐state: group‐based ideology, lethal attacks, territorial control, population control, governance, and capacity to enter into alliances with other states or other non-state groups.
- Dates associated with the prediction of future attacks for MENA groups are those involving events linked to ideology. Christian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are the dates that have attracted the greatest number of high‐profile attacks over time.
- Symbolic dates associated with attention spikes for far‐right groups tended to focus on issues of governance, population control, and alliance building. Those associated with far‐right lone actors, however, emphasized lethal attacks and an ideological project.
- Only one date focused on the far right’s insistence on territorial control, and that incident dated back to 2014.
- Symbolic dates associated with far‐left groups mainly addressed issues of governance and population control. Like the far right, the far‐left groups had only one date that involved issues of territorial control.
- In the last five years, events corresponding to online attention spikes are more associated with far‐right groups than far‐left groups.
- Spikes in global news items mostly focus on dates associated with the activities of MENA‐based groups, followed by far‐right groups and then far‐left groups. A likely reason is that extremist groups in the MENA region have produced more lethal attacks, including ones that cross national borders, while the far right and far left tend to be more localised and less violent in their activities.
- Far‐right groups are far more likely to link their contemporary events to historically significant dates associated with their causes than far‐left groups.