Online radicalisation: a dangerous rabbit hole

January 18, 2023

Collage created with photos by Sebastiaan Stam from Pexels

Jacob (name changed) investigates why young people are especially vulnerable to online exploitation and indoctrination

Here in the UK, we’re in a strange situation as a country right now. After the mishandling of the pandemic, a rock band’s worth of prime ministers within a term, and the lack of responsibility taken for mistakes made over the past years, many young people are feeling disillusioned, isolated and anxious about their futures.

Whether you’ve been stuck in an unfamiliar city or student housing, or at home with very little personal space, tensions may have been incredibly heightened. With access to pretty much anything, through social media, young people turn to online outlets even more in difficult times.

Whether this is being active on social channels with other people, interacting with TV show fanbases, gaming or something more sinister, our generation is more vulnerable than ever to online attack.

Shocking research by Global Network reports that the world is experiencing a rise of far-right terrorism with the attempted recruiting of young people through online games, music, fashion and even graphic novels.

Talking to my friends about their narrow escapes from experiences of online exploitation, it seems that they didn’t fully realise the potential dangers until after they’d blocked their predator. While fortunately they did realise before it was too late, some might not be so fortunate.

Young people are at greater risk of being radicalised if they are isolated from their friends or culture, struggling with their identity or recovering from a traumatic event

In such isolating times, finding comfort online is a given for most, however it leaves us more exposed to disturbed individuals; to groups and people with malicious or predatory agendas who target the vulnerable. Exposure to extremist content and groups online can lead us down a dangerous path.

Young people can be at a greater risk of being radicalised if they are isolated from their friends or culture, struggling with their identity or recovering from a traumatic event.

Radicalisation involves a group or individual spreading or inciting extremist ideas online and indoctrinating someone to gain their trust for entirely their own goals and purposes.

Extremists, hate-groups or sexual predators all have one thing in common. They appear nice and interested at the start, so build a sense of trust with their victims easily; particularly those who are feeling lost or without a sense of belonging. Extremists capitalise on feelings of insecurity and use this to convince people they provide the solution. You can read more about how to spot and prevent online grooming and radicalisation here.

If we all lived our lives within one room, we’d have a very small picture of what the world is truly like. The internet is no different. With fake news and misinformation spreading like wildfire, it’s not always possible to know the truth. So, we often turn to the people who can support us, or appear to share the same interests, worries or concerns.

Stay safe online is vitally important. Don’t talk to strangers or post personal information. Block suspicious people, especially if they are older than you.

And with this, radicalisers use online forums as a playground to spot vulnerability and build connections with people to show they relate to them. This sense of being understood can be a very powerful pull into using different channels, where you or I can be exposed to propaganda and extremist views.

So how do we protect the younger generation? How can we protect ourselves? It’s all well and good for me to say to myself not to meet with strangers online and to stay away from certain places on the internet. But when we’re feeling isolated, lonely or misunderstood, it’s easy to get drawn down a dangerous rabbit hole.

The government needs to step up to encourage and enforce more education programmes to teach young people about the dangers of these topics. They should take more responsibility in regulating posts of extremist material. However, in my opinion, those in power don’t appear to be addressing any of the challenges young people are facing; which means we need to work together in our communities and beyond to help combat hate!

Staying safe online is vitally important. Don’t talk to strangers or post personal information – remember, posts are permanent. Block suspicious people, especially if they are older than you. You can find more tips on staying safe online here.

The Breck Foundation is a charity set up to combat online grooming, safeguarding children and young people to avoid digital exploitation. You can find out more here.

Shout Out UK helps schools and colleges tackle extremism and radicalisation by using modern techniques. Check out more here.

Barnet Council offers comprehensive advice for staying safe online.

Part of Exposure’s Extreme Caution campaign, enabling young people to tackle online grooming and hate, supported by Young Barnet Foundation. Due to the sensitive nature of this project author names have been anonymised.

Exposure is a youth communications charity enabling young people to thrive creatively, for the good of others as well as themselves.

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