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Radicalisation in the digital era: how the internet has become a tool for terrorists

Anonymous.Easy.Exciting. These are three words that probably describe how the Internet might appear to children and adolescents. With their curious minds, children increasingly turn to the Internet to find answers to all kinds of questions.

There is no denying that the Internet has revolutionised the way we communicate and made it easier for like-minded individuals to network and share ideologies. Amidst the hype about the latest technologies, apps and social networking platforms, there is an essential question we have had a tendency to overlook. What is the effect of the digital revolution on the most vulnerable section of society: our children and our youth?

With one in three children in the UK owning their own tablet or computer, we have to wonder how much of the information they are accessing is actually safe or appropriate for them. We know from experience that children are easily influenced and often fall victim to online bullying and harassment. But there is another large concern in today’s climate, triggered by the inevitable misuse of digital technology by violent extremists, who hold dangerous and radical ideals.

While it might seem shocking to most, the fact is that terrorist organisations have zeroed in on children – the least likely recruits – and are making concerted efforts to instill their radical ideologies in them.

Online radicalisation has received a great deal of attention in recent months, especially following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. There is an increasing fear that young people can be groomed online by violent extremists and encouraged to turn on their home countries and join these radical outfits. Over the last couple of years, we have seen the alarming impact of terrorism in our cities and communities, as well as its tragic and atrocious impact on humanity. What is even more alarming is that several of these terrorist groups use the Internet as a tool to share their message, propagate their ideology and contact new recruits.

Why do we need to worry?

Expert organisations in the UK and the US have done extensive research in this area and their findings are disturbing, to say the least:

  • In the United Kingdom, videos have been discovered in which young people filmed themselves re-enacting beheadings. The assumption is that the youths were mimicking videos of beheadings that had been posted online by terrorist groups across the world.
  • Some terrorist groups have established websites designed specifically for young audiences, disseminating propaganda through colourful, engaging cartoons and video games. Many of these sites are available in English and can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection.
  • According to one report, a 19-year old British student, whose entire radicalisation occurred online, spent hours downloading extremist videos, posting messages, and chatting with other radicals. Eventually, he made contact with an extremist recruiter and, along with four other young British people he had never met, prepared to travel to a training camp overseas.
  • Terrorist groups have developed sophisticated online presences, implementing complex hosting mechanisms and, an array of platforms, including some that are more interactive and especially popular among children and teens.

The digital space offers an ideal platform to create social bonds and propagate ideologies that would not be deemed acceptable in the non-virtual world. Unfortunately, having realised the potential of the Internet, terrorists are leveraging its power to create a global network of recruits. By targeting the young, they have guaranteed a continuous supply of ‘soldiers’ to partake in their ongoing extremist activities.

Although the data and research paints a bleak picture, a lot is being done to protect and safeguard children from these dangers. Several organisations working in the area of child protection and safety have dedicated their time and effort to ensure that children do not fall prey to radicalisation and extremist ideologies.

e-Safety measures are some of the most reliable and effective mechanisms to ensure that children are protected at the early stages, as soon as they come into contact with a potential threat. The technology works in a way that ensures Internet usage can be monitored, and this tracking data can subsequently be used to safeguard children from harm.

The government’s Prevent duty now makes it obligatory for schools to monitor and report attempts at radicalisation. The Prevent duty states that Schools will need to demonstrate they are protecting pupils from being attracted to terrorism by ‘having robust safeguarding policies in place to identify children at risk, and intervening as appropriate’.

To keep up to date on this subject, look out for our next blog. If you work with children and are interested in information about e-Safety and other areas relating to child protection, follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter. We’d love to connect!

Greg Johnson
Greg Johnson

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