Radicalisation and the internet
We are all using the internet more than ever before and so it’s increasingly important to know what to look out for and how to protect our loved ones online.
UK adults are now spending up to a quarter of their waking hours online with 18-24 year olds spending the most time, averaging 5 hours and 4 minutes.
The internet has opened up many new opportunities in communication, entertainment and knowledge. But it’s also given extremists the means to target, connect and communicate with people vulnerable to radicalisation.
Exposure to extremist content and groups online can lead them down a dangerous path. If you’re concerned someone close might be being targeted, then act early and share your concerns so the person can get the support they need.
Teenagers and young people are at greater risk of being targeted
Anyone can be at risk of being radicalised regardless of their age, but teenagers and young people can sometimes be at a greater risk. This is because they might be entering a new phase in their lives, such as going to college or university. Or they might be struggling with a sense of identity or belonging.
Extremists know how to capitalise on feelings of insecurity and convince the person they can help by providing a solution. They don’t have the person’s best interests at heart and will twist the narrative to suit their end goal of radicalisation.
Radicalisers use social media to identify vulnerability
The internet has made it much easier for radicalisers to find and identify people who might be easily influenced and drawn into extremist behaviour.
Social media platforms and internet forums are full of people reaching out online to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness, stress, anxiety or rejection. This can sometimes leave them feeling very upset or angry and potentially at risk from people looking to exploit these feelings. A radicaliser will try to connect with them, or will join in the forum chat posing as a ‘listening ear’ or a ‘friend.’
Private chats and invitation only
Radicalisers will first try to build a connection with the person to show that they ‘get them.’ This can be a gradual process as the radicaliser takes the time to understand them and how they are feeling. They do this so that they can find and identify the person’s trigger, which they will work on to draw them further in.
W. Joseph is an Intervention Provider (a specialist mentor) who has supported many people at risk of radicalisation to turn away from extremism. He has seen how radicalisers target and tailor the grooming to the individual.
The radicalisers are good at research and send people down a ‘rabbit hole’ by providing a clear narrative. They point them towards conspiracy theories for example. It works if the individual wants a clear narrative to follow.” W. Joseph, Intervention Provider.
Once they have established a deeper connection with the person they will invite them to chat privately on another platform on the Dark Web, a gaming platform, or on encrypted messaging apps like Telegram or Parler.
How they exploit vulnerable people
Radicalisers are very good at identifying people’s anxieties and exploiting their vulnerability. They will offer them a new narrative or a way out from how they are feeling.
Once the person at risk of being drawn into extremism is invited into a closed group, then the group chat acts like an echo chamber. This is when the opinions or narratives expressed are not challenged, but are being reinforced by the group.
Every day we hear and see information and news from lots of different sources and perspectives, but if you are only hearing and seeing the same opinions and views then it’s like being in an ‘echo chamber.’
This can make it hard for the person to consider any opposing views and can lead them to become more extreme.
“They want you to mistrust the people around you, your parents, brother, sister, friends, teachers.” W. Joseph Intervention Provider.
What online channels are used to target vulnerable people online?
Extremists use lots of different channels to try to connect with someone who they think could be vulnerable and persuadable. They will look at posts/tweets, likes and shares and social media profiles and friend lists to identify people to target.
What can you do to protect a loved one from online radicalisation?
Radicalisers try to create a bubble of social isolation, so no one can contradict the narrative they are telling the person. But there are steps you can take to help stop them from being drawn in.
Signs that can show a person may be a victim of online radicalisation
More important than any one sign is the feeling that something is not quite right. Parents and friends are best placed to spot any changes in behaviour. If you are worried then trust your instincts and reach out for help and advice. If you act early the person can receive support and choose a different pathway before it is too late.
Here are some signs to watch out for in the person you are worried about. You can find out more in our section on what to look out for, which explains how to spot the signs in more detail.