Risk Screening for Reputational Harm

 In Community Safety, Criminal Profiling, Extreme Views, Reputational Damage, Right Wing Extremism, Risk Screening, Safety Alertness, Violent Extremism

Today’s business environment requires organizations to be ever vigilant about ‘who’ they employ and ‘who’ they have employed.  The reputational damage to an organisation’s brand by having deviant or rogue employees can be catastrophic to its very survival.  Research shows an employee with a high level of ‘extreme views’[1] poses a ‘susceptibility risk’ that increases the likelihood of future engagement in a variety of harm-causing ‘insider threat’ activities.

Furthermore, extreme views are harm-producing to community cohesion and resilience, whether they be from the Far Right or the Far Left sides of the political spectrum. Even mainstream politics has its share of ‘normalizing’ extreme views.  Social media platforms such as ‘You Tube’ give hyped-up expression to biased and extremist views.[2]

The CATCH (Cognitive Assessment of Threat Capacity for Harm) software system is an ‘early warning’ risk screening triage tool designed to identify clusters of specific and extreme cognitive risk markers indicative of a potential harm trajectory. A harm trajectory can be ‘triggered’ by multiple factors into actions that can potentially do serious reputational damage to an organization.

The central and critical question in all of this for society is, what does this echo-chamber embedding and pushing of extreme views do to the individual?  Does a person with extreme views become more extreme in their actions?   If so, does this make society a more dangerous place for all of us?

The answer is more complex than the simple question suggests.  There is a certain ‘fuzziness’ to the link between ‘cognition’ (extreme views) and ‘behaviour’ (extreme actions).

The fact of the matter is, not everyone with an extreme view on a topic or social issue they ‘perceive’ as wrong will act on it. The majority of individuals with extreme and dogmatic beliefs about a particular ‘perceived’ grievance or injustice may passionately debate or even argue with others who hold a different, contrary, or alternative view but will stop short of taking any extreme action like becoming aggressive or violent to others.

However, there are always a few who hold extreme views that will go on to act in extremely violent ways on their dangerous beliefs.  Usually, some triggering incident or event is involved (eg. loss of job, discrimination, racism, humiliation, injury, and so forth) pushes a person who nurtures extreme views to the point of becoming ‘behaviourally’ motivated to act out in a randomly violent way at others they ‘perceive’ as responsible for their grievances.

Others have developed, or had cultivated in them, extreme views due to involvement in a criminal lifestyle either because of their deviant desires or through plain and simple greed.  For instance, paedophiles who target and groom children for sexual exploitation, or people smugglers and organised criminal networks trafficking in human misery, where others fall ‘victim’ to their lust or greed.

The complication here is that a person who holds an extreme view is ‘cognitively more susceptible’ to become behaviourally motivated than one with a more moderate or mainstream view.   Hence, while the ‘link’ between holding an ‘extreme view’ and taking ‘violent action’ is not a direct one, it is nonetheless, an indirect or ‘fuzzy’ one.

In today’s globally unpredictable environment threats from criminality, activism, and extremism are dynamically evolving social harms. They involve complex motivations from a wide spectrum of lone-wolves, radicalised individuals, single-issue activists, enraged youth, disgruntled and disillusioned employees. Such persons potentially pose external and internal threats to the business community, government agencies, and society.

Employee vetting tools like background checks and security clearances primarily rely of static (ie. unchanging) risk indicators like employment history, any criminal convictions, and so forth on the assumption that past behaviour is predictive of future behaviour.  However, this is not enough. In a globally wired world, extremism is dynamic (ie. constantly changing) and involves a mindset of extreme thinking where a person’s particular perceptions (ie.  interpretations of reality) and beliefs (ie. firmly-held convictions) are evolving over time along certain, relatively predictable, cognitive trajectories.

Therefore, static indicators (ie. past behaviours) alone are not reliable for future risk predictability unless combined with cognitively dynamic risk indicators. It is only by dynamically assessing specific perceptions and beliefs associated with extremist thinking that a robust insider risk/threat capacity vetting system is possible.  This is the unique strength of the CATCH software as a service (aas)[3].

The CATCH system consists of a cognitive risk inventory[4] delivered as an Online Survey. Its software program has a purpose-built algorithm that analyses a person’s risk/threat capacity to potentially engage in harmful behaviours.

The reality is we live in an instantaneous ‘click-of-a-button’ globally-connected, algorithm-driven world where there are many opportunities for people to become infected as ‘susceptible’ individuals (ie. people-at-risk of extreme views).  Once ‘cognitively primed’ with extreme ideas it is but a short, if ‘fuzzy’ step, to being radicalised further if the ‘right’, or more precisely ‘wrong’, set of circumstances (ie. triggering incident/event/terrorist network or criminal lifestyle) is part of their world.


[1] A person who holds ‘extreme views’ is more likely to be emotionally immature, less tolerant of others, to engage in simplistic black-and-white thinking, prone to social cynicism, have lower self-esteem, and a lesser capacity for impulse control than people with a moderate worldview (Chen, Lam, Wu, Ng, Buchtel, & Guan, 2016; Van Prooijen, Krouwel & Pollet, 2015; Borum, 2014: Rip, Vallerand & Lafreniere, 2012; Loza, 2011; Saucier, Akers, Shen-Miller, Knezevic & Stankov, 2009)

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/25/google-youtube-advertising-extremist-content-att-verizon

[3] CATCH is a proprietary commercial product. For details about licensing please contact its developer, Dr. Geoff Dean via email (profgdean@gmail.com)

[4] CATCH is not intended as a stand-alone risk screening system, rather it is best used as a triage tool in combination with other measures, to have any realistic hope of ‘finding the few amongst the many’ that will do harm to us in our society.


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