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Public Policy and Administration


Elizabeth Hagens


The emerging phenomenon of Western women Islamic converts learning radicalized ideology through social media constitutes a challenge to cyber policy makers hampered by a lack of gender-nuanced radicalization research. The purpose of this exploratory qualitative case study was to develop a greater understanding of how the differential reinforcement tenet of social learning theory may help to explain the conversion and radicalization of Western women towards a fundamentalist Islamic ideology through their participation in the social media. Key research questions explored how participation in online social media may create vulnerability towards radicalization and exploitation. The blogs of 3 different Western women converts were selected from the social media website Tumblr for the period of January 2014 through September 2015. Approximately 21,700 posted entries were subjected to a deductive coding process and thematic analysis. Key findings indicated that fervent activism, strong commitment to the digital community, and a tepid response to world terrorist attacks were potential vulnerabilities for targeted radicalization. Additionally, authors increased the number of their ideology-related posts in response to increased reader interactions. Finally, reader responses did not appear to alter the bloggers' static and strongly held positions on cultural gender roles. The positive social change implications stemming from this study include a starting point for the development of a formal adolescent cyber educational program, new metadata delimiters for the identification and engagement of vulnerable women, and as an example of the use of public policy theoretical frameworks for homeland security research.