Out of the Shadows: Subversion and Counterculture in the Digital Age




Whyte, Christopher

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Subversive groups utilize information and communications technologies (ICTs) for many activities, both legitimate and illicit. This dissertation studies the patterns and determinants of ICT usage amongst subversive groups in world politics. Specifically, this project undertakes the first comprehensive study of how extreme non-state actors utilize ICT for persuasion and why some groups use ICT antagonistically despite clear incentives not to. I demonstrate that subversive activists most often employ low- intensity digital techniques in efforts to antagonize and that agents of antagonism – hackers, script kiddies and hostile activists – are most often found among peripheral elements of subversive movements. Based on available evidence, I then theorize that greater incidence of digital antagonism emerges from the revisionist statements made by subversive leaders about aims and methods. When such statements are made, peripheral hackers are incentivized to employ shady methods when galvanizing supporters and disrupting the activities of societal opponents. When leaders move to emphasize participatory approaches to subversion, incentives to use ICT antagonistically are muted.



International relations, Counterculture, Cyber, Non-state, Subversion