How to counter online hate and extremism with young people

A girl frowns at her phone.

Hate and Extremism Analyst, Hannah Rose, shares insight into how and why young people might join extremist communities online.

Learn how to counter online hate and extremism to support children’s safety.

Where does online hate come from?

Online hate is a mainstream issue, and can be spread by people who do not believe themselves to hold extremist views. Hateful attitudes can stem from mis- or disinformation, stereotyping of whole communities or the spreading of conspiracy theories.

Help children tackle online hate with The Online Together Project.

How do young people get involved in spreading online hate?

Debate or interest in ongoing conflicts and causes can have huge positive consequences in young people. Such positive consequences include learning about other cultures, engaging in social action or modelling healthy discussions.

However, some debates — such as those relating to Israel and Palestine — can be polarising and isolating for impacted communities.

Analysis from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) demonstrates how online antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred have risen in discussions about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Additionally, these attitudes mirror offline trends of increased incidents and ethnically- or religiously-motivated hate crimes.

Young people are particularly vulnerable

New polling from YouGov and from The Economist in the United States shows that young people are more likely than older contemporaries to believe harmful myths about Jewish power or the Holocaust. As such, some have raised concerns about algorithmic bias on apps popular among young people such as TikTok.

Tackle online misinformation

Help children and young people become critical thinkers so they can accurately assess the information they see online.

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What does 'extremism' mean?

Extremism is best understood as an unshakeable zero-sum in-group vs out-group mindset. In other words, extremism means seeing the world as ‘me and people like me’ vs ‘you and people like you’, where only one group can ‘win’.

These dividing lines often draw on religious, ethnic or racial differences.

Unfortunately, this way of looking at the world tends to engage in ‘identity reduction’. This is where people’s multiple intersecting identities get reduced to simple stereotypes based on these characteristics.

Such behaviour can lead to dehumanisation of others, the consolidation of echo chambers and the inability to hold multiple truths and critically engage with people with different opinions.

How online hate becomes extremism

Where young people see extremist content

It is unfortunately extremely easy to access extremist online communities, particularly on smaller social media platforms which have poor safety policies.

Alternatively, young people may find out about these forums through the use of mainstream social media platforms, where people often post links to groups or networks. While mainstream platforms typically have settings for more child-friendly modes, it won’t always hide violent or graphic content.

Gaming forums can also play a role in radicalisation. For example, servers on platforms such as Discord are used as socialisation spaces for extremists.

Why do young people join extremist networks?

Young people may get involved in extremist networks for various reasons, not all of which are linked to ideology.

They might seek counter-culture or rebellion, look for a social space which accepts them due to in-person social isolation, or may even stumble across extremist communities by accident. For example, some platforms such as X (formerly Twitter) or TikTok use ‘algorithmic amplification’, which suggests similar accounts to those where a user spends a lot of time, which may result in serving them new extremist networks.

Many extremist forums are not just a space to post, but form a whole community of support, sharing jokes or playing games. Some have very strong meme cultures, where racism is gamified and seen as a form of dark humour. In these forums, older individuals sometimes seek to recruit young people to extremist causes.

Increasingly, young people are also able to access extremist ideas and activities without any involvement from adults. Additionally, there are more and more cases of children forming their own extremist networks or engaging with their peers over harmful causes, although this is still relatively rare.

What parents can do to counter online hate and extremism

Parents, carers and teachers should encourage young people to engage in healthy debates rooted in factually accurate information. Young people’s arguments should recognise diversity of opinion and the real-world impact which conflicts and their associated hate can have. Real-world encounters can help with this. In fact, some studies suggest that meeting a diverse range of people can help young people to reject stereotypes.

This could involve schools organising visits to local faith communities, or through interfaith initiatives such as Stand Up, which brings Jewish and Muslim educators to the classroom.

Where online hate is linked to misinformation, parents can show children how to use tools such as BBC Verify to identify whether stories or images are true. Fact-checking can develop children’s media literacy and critical thinking skills, helping them challenge the spread of false information. Unfortunately, the introduction of generative artificial intelligence tools will make this more challenging.

Look out for the signs of extremism

When it comes to extremism, parents and carers can look out for specific signs, images or language which someone engaging in the far right might adopt. The book ‘Signs of Hate’ from anti-fascist charity HOPE not Hate highlights what this might look like.

Young people who share extreme views might also display ‘us vs them’ attitudes. They might dehumanise or stereotype another group based on protected characteristics.

If you think your child is communicating within extremist communities or is at risk of doing so, there are things you can do to. Visit the radicalisation advice hub to learn more.

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Get advice and guidance on tackling radicalisation and extremism online.

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