Researchers at the University of Bath are seeking to understand how the internet is used in recruitment, radicalisation and organisation of threats to national security, thanks to further funding for the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats (CREST).

CREST has been awarded £2.88m, in a grant administered by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), to continue existing and develop new economic and social science research to understand, mitigate and counter security threats to the UK.

The University of Bath is one of three universities, alongside Portsmouth and Lancaster, to be a core partner of CREST.

Professor Adam Joinson, at Bath’s School of Management, is leading a project to understand and counter online behaviour. The research looks at which patterns of online engagement indicate increased risk of action as well as an evaluation of the technical and social options available to reduce hate speech.

Since its launch in October 2015, CREST has brought together over one hundred researchers from 22 universities from around the world to break new ground in the understanding of contemporary threats and our capacity to counter them. It has also secured an additional £3 million in funding on top of its initial funding from the UK security and intelligence agencies.

The follow-on funding announced today sees CREST funded for a further two years with £2.88 million from the UK security and intelligence agencies and a further £756,000 from its core university partners.

Professor Adam Joinson said: “The online environment has become ever more important from a national security perspective - not only as the ‘command and control’ infrastructure for many terrorist activities, but more generally in terms of the spread of (mis)information and hate speech. This extension to the CREST project means that we will be able to apply a behavioural science lens to these challenges, in particular by looking at how we can reduce hate speech online, and how law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies can evaluate risk from online patterns of behaviour.”

Director of CREST, Professor Paul Taylor from Lancaster University, said: “I'm delighted that the ESRC and UK's security and intelligence agencies continue to recognise CREST's central role in delivering the social science evidence needed to tackle the security challenges of today. This follow-on funding is a reward to all the researchers and staff who have contributed to the world-leading research and subsequent training modules, guides, and reports we have produced, not to forget our quarterly magazine, CREST Security Review.

“We have now brought together over one hundred of the UK’s top economic, behavioural and social scientists to develop our understanding of security threats and how best to mitigate them. I look forward to expanding this network and our work over the next two years."

As well as conducting world-class, independent research, CREST has taken a leading role in stimulating public and professional debate, connect disciplinary communities, inform security policy and practice, and providing training to research leaders of the future.

Core programmes of research will be delivered by academics at the universities of Bath, Lancaster and Portsmouth and will include projects on:

  • Ideological impacts and unintended consequences of state actions as well as learning processes in extremist and security milieux

  • Online behaviour, looking at what patterns of online engagement indicate increased risk of action and undertaking evaluation of the technical and social options available to reduce hate speech (led by the University of Bath)

  • Information elicitation, focusing on techniques to facilitate recall and elicitation in online environments as well as maximising the effectiveness of these techniques across different cultures

  • Behavioural analytics, providing tools for remote psychological assessment via social sensors and identifying anomalous events in multi-channel behavioural data

  • Protective security and risk assessment, leading our understanding of the social and behavioural aspects of software development and connecting cyber-physical security in the digital built environment

Further programmes of research on targeting the evolving security landscape will be funded through a £1.1m commissioning call. These will add to the 16 projects funded through previous CREST commissioning calls in 2015 and 2016.