Radicalisation of young people through social media

By Sajda Mughal OBE on

Sajda Mughal OBE of JAN Trust provides an insight into how social media and other platforms are being used to radicalise young people and gives some key tips on what parents can do to protect their children from this online threat.

The UK Government has identified extremism as ‘one of the greatest threats we [the UK] face’, specifically, Far-Right and Islamic extremism. Both Far-Right and Islamic extremist groups are increasingly using the Internet to radicalise and recruit young people.

This should come as no surprise as according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics, the age group 16-24 ranks second in daily computer use. Young people today have easier access to the Internet through various devices making them vulnerable to harm from Islamic and Far-Right extremist groups.

Impact of radicalisation on young people

Since the start of the conflict in Syria, in 2011, 5,000 foreign fighters have travelled from Western Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq. 760 of these have been from the UK. This figure includes girls as young as 15 who have left to marry ISIS fighters. The BBC has reported that almost half of those who travelled from the UK have since returned posing a long-term threat to the UK, the Met Assistant Commissioner said last year.

Role of the internet in radicalisation

The Internet has played a significant role in the radicalisation and recruitment of foreign fighters and continues to do so.

Research conducted by Oxford University in 2015 confirms the importance of social networks as a tool used by ISIS to recruit young people. Social networking is the main activity young people aged 16-24 use the internet for, something which extremist groups are well aware of. This is why they are using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to draw young people to their cause.

A report published by Birmingham City University which analysed tweets between January 2013 and April 2014 revealed the use of Twitter to create hostility and incite violence. One of the tweets found by researchers read ‘… I HATE PAKIS, I HATE MUSLIMS. KILL THEM ALL!” Far-Right groups are not only targeting Muslims but also LGBT and Jewish communities via social media.

Growth of support for extremist groups on social

Far-Right extremist groups are using the Internet to recruit ‘a new younger generation of members’. It is also facilitating the ability of Far-Right groups to organise and promote themselves. The numbers speak for themselves as Far-Right groups such as Pegida’s Facebook page has more than 200,000 likes whereas Britain First has a whopping two million likes, more than the likes on the Facebook pages of the Labour and Conservative parties combined. Far-Rights groups have gained incredible popularity online with the Internet helping them to mobilise support and recruit new members.

Level of extremist content online

There is a wealth of Far-Right and Islamic extremist material available online including; articles, images, videos encouraging hate or violence, posts on social media and, websites created or hosted by terrorist organisations. There are also terrorist training materials and videos glorifying war and violence that play on the theme of popular video games such as ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’. These use highly emotive language and images created to play on the issues young people are struggling with such as identity, faith and belonging.

Work from JAN Trust to support parents

We, JAN Trust, are at the forefront of tackling this issue and have been conducting research on the issues of Internet extremism since 2006. We use this research to develop our unique Web Guardians© programme.

The programme provides mothers and carers with the essential skills to tackle the issue so that they can protect their children. The organisation also delivers ‘Safeguarding from Extremism’ workshops to students, parents and staff across the UK focusing on the threat of online Far-Right and Islamic extremism.

Our work shows that parents and carers are essential to tackling online radicalisation and extremism.

So, what can parents do to protect their children?

Have a conversation about online radicalisation and extremism early and often – is vital. It’s important to engage with your child early on about the dangers of the internet and to have ongoing conversations.

Explore online together – Sit down with your child and learn about what websites and apps they like and why.

Check they know how to use privacy settings and reporting tools – where reporting functions are, how to block someone and how to keep information private for example on Facebook and Twitter.

Tell your child to think before they post.

Be a friend and follower on social media.

Make yourself aware of who your child is talking to online.

Set rules and agree boundaries – One idea is to sit with your child and create a ’family agreement’ that helps them understand what they should do to stay safe online

Make sure that content is age-appropriate by setting parental controls.

Use parental controls to filter, restrict inappropriate content and monitor what your child is doing online. Internet Service Providers provide a range of packages to help families stay safe online developed in along with organisations working on internet safety and security.

 

Additional information

If you’d like to learn more about online radicalisation and how you can protect your child, please visit:

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