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Non-State Actors Trajectories Database (NSATD)

The Non-State Actors Trajectories Database (NSATD) is an open-source and free-to-use repository of historical and contemporary information about the relative strength of major armed rebel groups in the Syrian Civil War (including ISIS, Nusra Front/Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Hurras al-Din). While the Syrian Civil War is one of the most important and closely studied conflicts, analysis of it has been limited by a lack of comprehensive comparative data about the combatants active in each major armed rebel group or coalition. Despite the need for this data, it is lacking from all of the existing databases surveyed, including the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), and the Stanford Mapping Militants Program (MMP). Combining data from local and international news-media, United Nations (UN) reports, and academic databases, the NSATD triangulates the available sources to track the relative strength of each major group in Syria from 2011-2022.. Where data for an existing group or coalition is unavailable the NSATD, uses adjacent information and historical context to provide an informed estimate. Data collection in conflict zones is perennially complicated and limited by the inherent challenges associated with data collection, but the NSATD attempts to mitigate these gaps in our knowledge by leverage all available information to provide comprehensive predicted values for years when documented numbers are missing. As with any estimates of combatant numbers, even from governmental sources, the NSATD data is approximate. Support from the research community in identifying new details or sources of data on combatant strength is welcomed and encouraged as the project grows. While hundreds of small groups were initially active in the conflict, many of these merged or were consolidated into the larger non-state groups and coalitions that NSATD focusses on. Additional, smaller groups and regions (including outside Syria) are expected to be added in the future. Graphs and charts are presented alongside the data to help researchers visualise the data and highlight emergent trends within the the conflict. For more information, please visit the NSATD website.

Monitoring Online Extremism and Disinformation

This project tracks and measures how extremist actors (including Jihadist-Salafist Groups and Far-Right / Accelerationist Groups) exploit new online platforms to recruit, organise, and spread propaganda which can result in offline harms. I am particularly interested in examining how these extremist groups increasingly use encrypted social media platforms (Rocket.Chat, Telegram, TamTam Messenger Signal) to communicate privately, and seeks to measure the response and regulatory policies of these technology firms. This research includes analysis of foreign fighters and civil conflicts from Afghanistan, to Syria, and Ukraine. Within North America, I focus on how Anti-Vaccine and Far-Right Extremist networks have exploited new technologies to amplify, organise, and coordinate their political activities, with particular interest in hybrid disinformation and offline organising. I also maintain the Accelerationist Research Database (ARD) a repository for documents (including images, videos, music, symbols, and web forums) related to the growing Accelerationism movement within Far Right networks. The rise of post-organisational extremism, particular among Far-Right actors, has prompted the need to understand secondary indicators of extremism and the ARB serves as a starting point for tracking and identifying trends within the movement. As such, this research begins to address the constantly evolving methods and loopholes employed by extremists to use evade detection and community standards on major social media platforms.

Addressing Online Harms

This early-stage project explores how commercially-available targeted advertising technologies to address online extremism and disinformation. In particular, it is focussed on how to best identify individual users who are interested in extremist content or disinformation and offer them a different and more reliable source of information. To ensure click-through rates, the project seeks to develop carefully tailored content that addresses the core concerns of individuals who are vulnerable to extremism, rather than brushing these fears and concerns to the side. While click-through rates remain quite low when compared with commercial advertising, even low engagement can lead to less violent attacks. Future research is needed to understand the role of empathy, humour, and psychology in developing redirect tools that meet users where they are and engage them with social support networks beyond simply counter-messaging.The project primarily focusses  on users who are only beginning to explore extremist content as opposed to long-term consumers of disinformation and extremist content.

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