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Social Language Processing: A Framework for Analyzing the Communication of Terrorists and Authoritarian Regimes


Social Language Processing (SLP) is introduced as an interdisciplinary approach to assess social features in communications by terrorist organizations and authoritarian regimes. The SLP paradigm represents a rapprochement of theories, tools and techniques from cognitive science, communications, computational linguistics, discourse processing, language studies and social psychology. The SLP paradigm consists of three broad stages: (1) linguistic feature identification; (2) linguistic feature extraction; and (3) classifier development. In this paper, we detail the SLP paradigm and review several linguistic features that are especially amenable to uncovering the social dynamics of groups that are difficult to assess directly (i.e. through questionnaires, interviews or direct observation). We demonstrate the application of SLP to identify status, cohesion and deception in the case of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Specifically, we analyzed the memoranda, letters and public communiqués distributed within and from Saddam Hussein’s administration in a recently recovered corpus called the Iraqi Perspectives Project, along with several related projects. We conclude with a discussion of the challenges that SLP faces for assessing social features across cultures in public and captured communications of terrorists and political regimes, along with responses to these organizations.

J.T. Hancock
D.I. Beaver
C.K. Chung
J. Frazee
J.W. Pennebaker
A. Graesser
Z. Cai
Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression 2, 108-132
Publication Date
March 29, 2010