TV soap highlights dangers of online grooming

March 9, 2023

Collage by Exposure using teddy bear mage by DanFa and online groomer image by Shafin Al Asad Protic both from Pixabay and Coronation Street opening titles with acknowledgements to ITV

No room to groom: Daisy Jones (name changed) reports on responsible media’s vital role as hate antidote

According to Counter Terrorism Policing, the number of children arrested in relation to terrorism offences has reached its highest level since records began, with children under 18 accounting for over 13% of arrests.

With such terrifying statistics, it is becoming increasingly important for us to educate ourselves on the matter of online terrorist grooming, which is believed to be the key cause of these offences. In doing so, we can minimise the risk of ourselves and our loved ones from falling into danger.

One method that often helps me understand more about difficult topics is through watching real-life or dramatised examples. Therefore, when I heard that the subject of online terrorist grooming would be explored in the ITV soap Coronation Street, I decided to tune in to learn more.

The extensive storyline, which has been written in consultation with Counter Terrorism Policing, tracks the experience of vulnerable teenager Max Turner, played by Paddy Bever, who is groomed by an extremist group and coerced into spreading hateful propaganda online.

The story, which commenced in late 2022, began with a portrayal of popular character Max, who had just been kicked out of school after struggling with his behaviour. Previously challenged with issues such as bullying and bereavement, the vulnerable character was left feeling frustrated and alienated.

Scene from Coronation Street showing Max being confronted about his views

Generally, all of these issues are considered examples of weaknesses that can mark a young person susceptible to grooming, including poor mental health, low self-esteem and struggling at school, which may justify to the viewer why Max was a fitting target for the extremist group.

Through providing answers, a sense of acceptance and someone to blame, viewers were presented with a depiction of how the group managed to groom the impressionable teenager into their extremist practices. This began with the groomers encouraging Max to turn on his peer, Daryan whom they blamed for ‘stealing’ his place at school, before gradually isolating Max from his family and coercing him to create online propaganda to spread their racist views.

Spot the signs
While it is important to remember that the storyline was a dramatised work of fiction, it enlightened me about some of the signs that can indicate a young person is being groomed by extremists, including:

  • Spending an increasingly long time online: while it is normal for young people to spend time online, Max was becoming increasingly fixated with and secretive about the video content he was posting on the internet
  • Changing circle of friends: the character began spending a significant amount of time with his new ‘friends’, who were known to be dangerous
  • Withdrawing from family: Max began to withdraw from and regularly argue with his family, before moving out to live with his new circle of ‘friends’
  • Expressing anger at perceived injustice
  • Using hate speech in conversations with others.

How to help
If you are concerned that someone you know may be susceptible to online grooming or is exhibiting signs of extremist behaviour, consider trying to help them through:

  • Starting a conversation: raise your concerns calmly and listen to what they have to say. Let them express themselves and try not to take or show offence
  • Countering their views: start a calm and rational debate where you can offer them your counter perspective on the matter
  • Don’t argue: if the victim starts to get angry or upset, don’t argue with them, as you may risk them isolating further
  • Remind them of the consequences: explain how innocent people could be hurt as a consequence of their actions. Also, are their views worth imprisonment? (You could even encourage them to watch a few episodes of Coronation Street to witness the consequences faced by Max)
  • Seek advice: confide in someone you trust or contact an organisation for help. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and you may save a person’s life. ACT Early, your Local Council’s Multi Agency Safety Hub (MASH) and Educate Against Hate are a few ways in which you can seek help.

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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