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Migration and Home Affairs
Expert opinion

RAN Small Scale Meeting Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’, online event 24 February 2021


Publication date
9 April 2021
Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs
RAN Publications Topic
Lone actors


How to find and identify digital terrorist “lone actors” before they commit violent acts was the lead question of this expert meeting. A special focus was put on the role and functions of social media platforms and gaming platforms. The term “lone-actor terrorism” has over time developed into a controversial and confusing concept. While individuals might act alone on an operational level, usually they are or feel as being a part of a specific group or movement.

Particularly in the digital age, so-called “lone actors” usually are and feel neither lonely nor alone. Some “lone-actor” attackers did not join any group since they thought they would be under government surveillance, but they felt part of a collective united by shared values, actions and enemies. The trial of the Halle attacker (2020) and the Christchurch commission report (2020) indicated that neither intelligence services nor law enforcement nor the tech industry knew where to look for these digital lone actors or how to identify them online.

Also, there was little awareness of the basic functionality (and abuse) of platforms, websites and other online services used by the perpetrators beyond Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

Some of the key findings of the meeting are:

  • So-called lone actors usually neither are nor feel lonely or alone. The narrative of the “lone wolf” is inaccurate and potentially harmful since it underestimates the milieus and informal networks that provide ideological, moral and sometimes logistical support to attackers.
  • Look out for particular warning signs that could have indicate that an individual is moving towards violent action, such as starting to post hate speech or manifestos describing an existential threat to their in-group and justifying or calling for violence; sharing or actively seeking do-it-yourself instructions about weapons; expressing a “need to act”; ending relationships with individuals they claim are inferior due to their skin colour, beliefs, gender or other attributes.
  • Funding for policy-oriented (short-term) research as well as for projects that focus on the digital (sub) milieus where potential digital lone actors might be active is needed.

This paper will first describe what challenges have been discussed from different perspectives shared. In the second part, recommendations for both practitioners and policymakers are presented.

Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’ cover


26 MAY 2021
Digital Terrorist and ‘Lone Actors’
(246.98 KB - PDF)