Blogs of War

Hizballah Cavalcade

Internet Haganah



Kremlin Trolls

Making Sense of Jihad

Selected Wisdom

Views from the Occident


American Terrorists

Anwar Awlaki

Al Qaeda


American Al Qaeda Members

Inspire Magazine

Revolution Muslim


News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More Gamification: Alix Levine Responds

Yesterday I posted some thoughts on an article by Jarrett Brachman and Alix Levine for Foreign Policy on the concept of "gamification." Today, Alix Levine has a thoughtful response on her blog. And yes, you're going to have to go back and read all of this in order to follow my short response.

First off, let me say that I do think there's some value in the gamification model and it may provide a very useful tool for analyzing the behavior of online jihadists. I objected to what I saw as an implication in the article that success at the "game" might correlate to violent acts in the real world.

Levine has two major criticisms of my analysis, which focused on the case of Zach Chesser. First, she points out that Chesser moved from Islamic Awakening to Al Qimmah after he started seriously losing the "game" at IA, and that Al Qimmah is also gamified.

I acknowledged that move in my original post. What neither Levine nor I have cited is a clean record of how Chesser fared from a gamification perspective at Al Qimmah. As I said before, my archives of the forums don't include reliable data on "thank yous" and "rep points," although that is an oversight I'm going to try to rectify going forward. Levine doesn't cite this data either, which I assume means she doesn't have it, since if the data showed Chesser racking up points that would make her argument more powerful. Without that data, simply making this observation doesn't refute my point.

My recollection is that both the quality and volume of Chesser's posts dropped off prior to his arrest. What I can point to for evidence of this is Aaron Zelin's interview with Chesser shortly before his arrest in which he states he was pulling back on his online activity (referring to blogging and other social media) because "it is no longer in my interests to do these things necessarily."

The second major criticism Levine has for my analysis is the characterization of a thread discussing Chesser's arrest on the Islamic Awakening forum as a "roast," which she calls a "major exaggeration." I think this characterization is reasonable.

Most threads devoted to Muslim prisoners on IA are hagiographies. The thread on Chesser was a combination of some extraordinarily harsh criticisms, a handful of real defenses of Chesser on his merits, and some tepid "let's not attack a fellow Muslim" responses. You can read the thread for yourself in the following PDFs, Part 1 and Part 2. When compared to threads on other prisoners, such as Tarek Mehanna or Daniel Maldonado, I believe that the Chesser thread was a shocking rebuke.

One last point where I think I do deserve to be challenged. It's not completely clear to me that Chesser was seriously on the verge of committing a terrorist act or becoming a foreign fighter. As I discuss in my book, Jihad Joe (out in just two weeks now), it seemed to me that Chesser may have wanted to get caught.

On a different front, the case of Tarek Mehanna is also probably one to study. Like Chesser, I question whether Mehanna was likely to act out in the real world (an argument I raise at more length in the book). And Mehanna, in contrast to Chesser, was exceedingly good at the "game" -- and still is, even from prison. Both Chesser and Mehanna were indictable, but that's not the same thing as being genuinely "close to action."

Overall I think there's a lot of interesting analysis yet to be done on gamification, which is certainly an interesting and useful approach to looking at online jihadist activities but I stand by my argument that a linear correlation between online success and real world violence is not likely to stand up when the data comes in.

What I suspect instead is that it may be possible to design some useful algorithms that can spot useful trends in online jihadist behavior using the metrics they have so helpfully provided. By allowing the users to rate each other, they allow us to see which users are most interesting. I'm guessing when the smoke clears that we should be concerned when someone with a high volume of posting shows a "rep" score that starts strong then plummets.

But we need real numbers to move this debate forward. I'm guessing that someone like Aaron Weisburd might be keeping score. I look forward to further input from all sides.

Labels: , ,

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



Tweets referencing this post:



", granular analysis..."

ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post

More on ISIS: The State of Terror

"...a timely warning..."

Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times

More on Jihad Joe


INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


Newest posts!

Some thoughts on "gamification": Where the loser t...

A Conversation About Jihad With Controversial Prea...

State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI T...

Publisher's Weekly: J.M. Berger's "Jihad Joe" Is "...

USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed et al.: The Trial Th...

Inspire's Ode to the Not-So-Lone Wolves

Just Days After OKC Bombing, Informant Named Two K...

New Issue of Al Qaeda's Inspire Magazine Aims For ...

September 11 Stock Footage Box

Top Stories, Tuesday, March 22


New York Pipe Bomb Suspect Linked to Revolution Muslim

The Utility of Lone Wolves

Interview with Online Jihadist Abu Suleiman Al Nasser

A Way Forward for CVE: The Five Ds

How Terrorists Use The Internet: Just Like You

PATCON: The FBI's Secret War on the Militia Movement

Interview About Jihad With Controversial Cleric Bilal Philips

Forgeries on the Jihadist Forums

U.S. Gave Millions To Charity Linked To Al Qaeda, Anwar Awlaki

State Department Secretly Met With Followers of Blind Sheikh

State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI To Deport Brother-in-Law Of Osama Bin Laden In 1995

FBI Records Reveal Details Of Nixon-Era Racial Profiling Program Targeting Arabs

Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War

U.S. Had 'High Confidence' Of UBL Attack In June 2001

Behind the Handshake: The Rumsfeld-Saddam Meeting