Gavagai performs Open source intelligence analysis of the threat level towards Lars Vilks

In 2007, the artist Lars Vilks upset a large number of people by depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad as a roundabout dog. In March 2010, eight people were arrested for plotting to murder Vilks.

We followed Vilks in Swedish social media during the spring of 2010, using a metric called the Violence Propensity Index (VPI) to quantify the expressions of violent language targeting Vilks. Image 1 illustrates how events unfolded.

Image 1: The Violence Propensity Index (VPI) for Lars Vilks in Swedish social media in May 2010. Note the rise in VPI on the days before the two attacks on Vilks.

On May 11, 2010 Vilks was assaulted while giving a lecture on free speech at Uppsala University. A few days later, on May 15, Vilks’ house was attacked by arsonists. Note the significant rise in VPI on the day before both attacks! What’s more: a public appearance by Vilks planned to May 4 was cancelled. There’s a rise in VPI on May 3, too!

Now, we’re not claiming that the bloggers did it. What we do say, however, is that the attitude towards a given subject, as expressed in on-line social media, may well reflect the attitudes at large in a population, including people who are about to take action and externalize their opinions. The VPI is a means to detect (weak) signals of violent chatter, and as such, may facilitate an early warning pertaining to targets at risk.

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