So what exactly is online extremism and how can it be defined? How can Safer Internet Centres respond to this issue? What messages do we need to provide to young people to ensure they have the resilience to deal with violent extremist and terrorist content they may access online?
- A recent Insafe training meeting heard from Dr Maura Conway, Senior Lecturer in International Security and Coordinator of VOX-Pol (voxpol.eu), expert in terrorism and the internet. She explained that it is important to distinguish between extremism, violent extremism, and terrorism. Of course, people are entitled to extreme views on any topic which may differ from our own, but violent extremists are declaring that they believe that the only way to resolve problems is to kill or harm others who disagree with them. Violent extremism and terrorism overlap but they are not the same.
There are a huge number of definitions of terrorism available as this is a highly contested term. One well-known definition is that contained in Title 22 of the United States Code, which states that terrorism is:
"…premeditated, politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience."
Violent jihadism is an ideology that aims to reorder government or society through the implementation by violence and oftentimes terrorism of Islamic or Sharia law.
Violent radicalisation (including online) is a process whereby individuals, through their online interactions and exposure to various types of internet content, come to view violence as a legitimate method of solving social and political conflicts. Some of those violently radicalised via the internet may go on to commit acts of terrorism.
Why do we need to be concerned?
Young people appear to be being influenced by digital content that they consume and by online interactions to the point where some have decided to leave their countries of origin to travel to Syria and Iraq in order to join Islamic State (IS).
Around 30,000 people have left countries (that are NOT Syria and Iraq) in order to join IS. At least 6,000 of these have left European countries.
Policy makers are placing a great emphasis on the role that the internet is playing in the recruitment of younger people to IS. There is a concern that some of those who join IS will return to the EU and carry out attacks on behalf of IS here.
The message given by IS to its adherents is that if you are unable to travel to Syria and Iraq then it is your duty carry out attacks in your home country.
Many of those influenced by IS are young; indeed many are teens. Footage has emerged showing young people carrying out executions and torture at the behest of IS.
There is clearly a need to work closely with industry to prevent social media from being used to promote violent extremism. Different governments are working to tackle the complex problem of restricting access to terrorist material online which may be hosted in one country but is illegal under national law. Another important strategy is to have clear reporting routes so that members of the public are able to flag and report extremist content online, while technical solutions could prove useful in preventing access to such content. However, given that much of this type of content is user-generated, finding it and removing it can be a challenge.
As in other aspects of online safety, the internet has not created a problem but it has exacerbated it by making it much easier for very large numbers of people to easily access violent extremist content and therefore to be potentially influenced by what they see, read or hear. A quote from the Anti-Defamation League notes that
"Face-to-face interaction with terrorist operatives is no longer a requirement for radicalisation. Individual extremists, or lone wolves, are increasingly self-radicalising online with no physical interactions with established terrorist groups or cells, a development that can make it more difficult for law enforcement to detect plots in their earliest stages."
Much of the preventative work focuses on providing a counter-narrative as, very often, extremist views can go unchallenged in chat rooms and other online forums. It has been suggested, however, that some attempts to do this (by governments) have been unsuccessful.
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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Working with network partners allows us to pass on specific questions raised in Saferinternet.at 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.
- How to assess/verify information provided by an online source?
- How to trust online experts?
- How to find reliable online sources?
"Haters gonna hate, hate, hate…" sings Taylor Swift in her recent smash hit single. Maybe in her song, but in real life, thanks to the No Hate Speech Movement campaign (NHSM), there is a decent chance that actions of haters (at least in online world) will be on the decline.
- Detect racism/discrimination and get to know what racism and discrimination means.
- Get to know the features of right-wing extremism and recognise them in online content.
- Recognise right-wing extremists in social networking sites.
- Recognise right-wing extremism in social web content and train adequate reactions.
- Recognise right-wing extremist messages in music clips and learn how to use reporting systems.
- Classify right-wing extremist content legally.
- Get to know various strategies of how to react to right-wing extremist actions/messages.
- The extreme right engages in alternative news dissemination, where events are passed through a racist/nationalist/national-socialist filter before it is presented to their audience. They use the internet and social media for recruiting with a high interactivity on forums and with comments. Their own media channels tell the truth, and all other media are lying to the people.
- The extreme/violent autonomous left don't use the internet as a tool for propaganda and recruiting. There is no interactivity in forums or with comments. Instead the autonomous left use the internet and social media to mobilise for special manifestations.
- The militant jihadists in Sweden use the internet to focus on conflicts abroad, rather than to mobilise for activities in Sweden. During the studied period (September 2012–April 2013), their use of the internet as a tool for propaganda and recruiting was limited with a low degree of interactivity.
- teachers and school-librarians.
- students (aged 12-18).
- librarians in public libraries.
- pedagogues working with children with intellectual or cognitive disabilities (through an easy-to-read version).
- UNESCO Conference: Youth and the internet: Fighting radicalisation and extremism - while the conference took place earlier in June 2015, the conference website provides some useful background information.