Youth and extremism in the digital era

Hadiya Masieh
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Digital media consumption in the UK, like elsewhere in the world, is growing rapidly.

According to research 53 per cent of people spend two to four hours a day on social platforms. Picture: Adobe Stock
According to research 53 per cent of people spend two to four hours a day on social platforms. Picture: Adobe Stock

In the UK alone, 53 per cent of us spend two to four hours a day on social platforms, while a further one in four spend more than five hours a day scrolling, watching and clicking through social feeds.

Easier access to mobile phones, tablets and online gaming devices means we are becoming more and more digitally connected, which in many cases has significant advantages – we can connect in real-time with friends and family anywhere in the world, engage with wider society and access much of the world’s knowledge through online libraries and 24/7 news reporting.

The developing digital world has dramatically changed how we work and learn. But there’s a problem.

The rapid expansion of the internet within society – accelerated by Covid-19 – has become a breeding ground for radicalisation. Terrorists and extremist groups can communicate, collaborate and convince more than ever before, accelerating the spread of violent extremist ideologies within communities. Increasing use of chat rooms, video gaming and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter also create more opportunities for terrorists and extremists to propagate and recruit, and apps such as Telegram and Discord are being used to share hateful and extremist narratives behind end-to-end encryption.

The truth is anyone can be radicalised, however, factors such as being easily influenced and impressionable puts children and young people especially at risk and there is currently a worrying increase in the number of children being drawn into terrorism. Statistics reveal the number of children arrested in relation to terrorism offences has reached its highest level since records began nearly 20 years ago.

Safeguarding vulnerable children from extremism online

As a result of my own experience of extremism whilst I was a university student, I have spent the last 15 years working with young people and families affected by radicalisation. In 2018, I set up the Groundswell Project to support governments, communities, and individuals to challenge extremism. Groundswell is on a mission to create kinder and closer-knit communities where hate and crime are unable to flourish and over the past four years, we have connected with over 500 like-minded grassroots organisations.

Ahead of Child Safety Week, Groundswell and its partners including Internet Matters, Childnet and TELL MAMA have launched a Mothers for Change safeguarding programme, to provide parents with the resources and tools they need to protect children online. In this course we discuss best practices for online safety and security across different platforms. This includes a discussion around options for responses to hate-based online content as well as tips for activists and campaigners looking to produce positive campaigns to undermine hate-based activities online.

Ultimately, radicalisation and extremism can be prevented by protecting vulnerable minds, showing alternatives and building dialogue that encourages a collective societal effort. We are calling on parents to join us in understanding the risks and learn how we can keep children safe online.

Hadiya Masieh is founder and executive director of the Groundswell Project

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