Public Release: 

Internet search data shows link between anti-Muslim and pro-ISIS searches in the US

Using Internet search data to examine the relationship between anti-Muslim and pro-ISIS sentiment in US counties

American Association for the Advancement of Science

In ethnically alike communities where poverty levels run high, anti-Muslim internet searches are strongly associated with pro-ISIS searches, according to a new analysis. This pattern, say the authors, suggests that counterterrorism policies targeting Muslims may do the opposite of what they intend, making these communities even more vulnerable to radicalization. Although the causal pathways of radicalization need further exploration, this study's results have important implications for the research of terrorism, ethnic discrimination, counterterrorism and immigration policies. The U.S. and Europe have recently experienced both an increase in terrorist attacks by first- and second-generation immigrants, and a parallel increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in these regions. Drivers of this prejudice have been difficult to determine, as studies that attempt to examine ethnic discrimination's influence on radicalism face many challenges; for example, would-be terrorists or people with anti-Muslim views are not likely to categorize themselves as such in research settings. In this new study, Christopher A. Bail and colleagues examined relevant internet search phrases on Google and other search engines - such as "How to join ISIS" - in 3,099 U.S. counties between 2014 and 2016. They used statistical models that control for various community-level factors - including population size, poverty, unemployment, community ethnic homogeneity, to name some - associated with radicalization and found that the level of anti-Muslim searches is the strongest predictor of subsequent pro-ISIS searches, followed by ethnic homogeneity, poverty rate and proportion of foreign-born residents. Although Bail et al. suggest future studies into the causal pathway are necessary, these findings shed new light on the interaction between anti-Muslim and pro-ISIS sentiment in western nations.


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