Online radicalisation as a new challenge for Safer Internet trainings

At present, all educators, trainers or other people who work with children and digital technologies face the same situation. Digital media's ever-evolving challenges – such as users' fast changing online behaviour as well as a constant flow of new tools, new internet technologies and new ways of online communication – raise new questions and demand new solutions. Therefore, it is essential for people engaged in Safer Internet trainings to stay up to date and constantly gain expertise in new topics. Online radicalisation and online jihadism are among the most challenging topics from recent months.

2015-06-30 Austrian Safer Internet Centre
Up to now, a fairly large group of people from Austria – in relation to the total population – have travelled to Syria to become foreign fighters. This development has not only unnerved citizens, but has also raised many questions, especially among teachers and young people. trainers are often confronted with questions regarding the situation, such as:
  • Why are young people interested in jihadism and willing to join this new movement
  • How does online recruitment work?
  • How should one (as a friend or teacher) react if they see a young person rapidly moving in this particular direction? 
  • How to deal with young people who have come back from Syria?
Not only do we need to answer those questions, we also have to accept our personal limitations. Moreover, we need to map out a strategy to handle online radicalisation in a competent way. These are the key elements of our strategy as the Austrian Safer Internet Awareness Centre:
We inform ourselves
In order to find answers and stay up to date, trainers participate in expert trainings or inform themselves using online materials. One of these special trainings took place in March 2015 as a joint training session together with the Austrian Helpline team, 147 Rat auf Draht. The workshop was conducted by the Austrian hotline for online radicalisation (funded by the Austrian Ministry of Family Affairs). Some of the trainers also attended various training sessions organised at regional level within regional youth work networks. However, there is still a need for further training activities, as many questions remain unanswered, such as how to deal with returning foreign fighters.
We work with partners and networks
New networks and new partnerships are constantly being established at regional level throughout the whole country. There are two reasons for trainers to actively participate in those networks:
  1. Many professionals in the field lack the experience on how young people use the internet for communication and how online radicalisation can be found on a daily basis. Being internet experts, we can contribute to those questions by explaining the digital world of young people to others.
  2. Working with network partners allows us to pass on specific questions raised in trainings to experts. We are neither experts on the Muslim world, nor do we have expertise on second or third generation migrants in Austria and their experiences with society. We refer questions regarding these topics to partners from specialised organisations or the police.
We know our strengths and limitations
Our experience from prevention work has shown that it is essential to broach the issue of online radicalisation at an early age. This can be achieved most effectively by teaching children information literacy. We train teachers on how to work with their students on the following topics:
  • How to assess/verify information provided by an online source?
  • How to trust online experts?
  • How to find reliable online sources?
Over the course of the last year, we have also added materials on this topic to our products and services. 
Despite all our efforts, we do not consider ourselves experts on Islam. We will still not be able to provide answers to all the questions raised in trainings. Therefore, we have to know our limitations, but still cater to our audience's need by referring them to expert partners.
We have to develop strategies on how to include our networks partners and establish a system of passing on training requests. The outlined strategies will help us to master present challenges and may also help to meet future ones.

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