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In this Perspective, the authors introduce a framework for internet users to categorize the virtual platforms they use and to understand the likelihood that they may encounter extreme content online.

The authors first provide a landscape of the online extremist "ecosystem," describing how the proliferation of messaging forums, social media networks, and other virtual community platforms has coincided with an increase in extremist online activity. Next, they present a framework to describe and categorize the platforms that host varying amounts of extreme content as mainstream, fringe, or niche. Mainstream platforms are those for which only a small portion of the content would be considered inappropriate or extreme speech. Fringe platforms are those that host a mix of mainstream and extreme content—and where a user might readily come across extreme content that is coded or obscured to disguise its violent or racist underpinning. Niche platforms are those that openly and purposefully cater to an extreme audience.

Funding for this research was made possible by the independent research and development provisions of RAND's contracts for the operation of its U.S. Department of Defense federally funded research and development centers. This research was conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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