Threat and Risk of Extremism Online
The Internet plays a positive and important role in our lives. Internet-enabled devices and gaming consoles are present in most households and access to the Internet is available in many public locations.
A huge effort is being made across the world to counter online extremism and terrorism, while protecting the online freedom of legitimate users. However, we all have a role in ensuring that not only do we stay safe while using the internet, but that we protect others who may be vulnerable to the dangers of online radicalisation.
Within the UK, radicalisation is considered to be the process by which individuals – especially young people – come to support terrorism and violent extremism.
With regard to radicalisation and recruitment, the Internet can reinforce ideological messages, make it easy to join formal organisations and can create an environment where unacceptable views and behaviours are perceived to be normal. Across the UK, there have been many examples of vulnerable people being recruited by violent extremists such as ISIS to either travel to Syria or Iraq, or indeed to bring the war to their own towns and cities. Likewise, the right-wing extremists utilise the Internet to influence, recruit and communicate with those susceptible to their ideology.
Parents and professionals who have a stake in a young person's wellbeing should take an active interest in their Internet usage. This should include discussing world events related to extremism and the dangers that online activity can present. This includes not only challenging unacceptable online activity, but also supporting those vulnerable to being radicalised. Various measures have been used in the last few years to restrict or deny access to extremism-related material, but the removal of websites or blogs is difficult. As Internet users, we have an important role in keeping ourselves and others safe from inappropriate material. It must be considered as simple safeguarding.
A recent Prevent case involved a 21-year-old young person from the Central area of Scotland who used the Internet extensively to research the political situation in Northern Iraq. He had strong beliefs that the people of Iraq and Syria had no support to combat the advances of ISIS. He had previously made an attempt to travel to an area of conflict but had been stopped at the airport due to his obvious vulnerabilities. He was unsure about his own intentions but felt the strong need to go and fight. His Internet searches and interests were not deemed to be risky by his mother and he has since communicated extensively and regularly with other individuals who have been fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. His Internet communications, whilst not illegal, have led him to be heavily exposed to being radicalised by others with strong views about the Middle East and placing himself in danger.
The Prevent Delivery Unit met this young person on several occasions to raise his awareness of the dangers he may face if he were to travel. He was briefed on the implications and impact of seeing violent acts and being at risk of possible injury or death. A counter narrative was provided and information was exchanged with other partner agencies with a view to offering support and interventions, such as working with related organisations in Scotland to assist the people of Northern Iraq and Syria.
The link below is a guide for schools on how terrorist groups such as ISIL use social media to encourage travel to Syria and Iraq.
www.direct.gov.uk/reportingonlineterrorism is a dedicated webpage where you can report online terrorist content you think might be illegal, or which you find offensive.
Get Safe Online – www.getsafeonline.org
This is a UK Government website containing advice and information on how to protect your computer, mobile phone and other devices.
See it Report it is a campaign that could be used as part of a wider lesson covering radicalisation and terrorism. This is a campaign to encourage young people to report social media activity that could potentially be aimed at exploiting young people.
We should all be aware that Prevent strives to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism or extremism. It is a form of Safeguarding, and many routes into extremism or terrorism have started through communication via the Internet.
We all have a duty to raise awareness and safeguard those who are vulnerable online.
We would like to remind all partners that specific security guidance can be found on the Police Scotland website and we would advocate that people remain alert and vigilant, and “If you suspect it, report it” by contacting Police Scotland directly by calling 101; in an emergency dial 999 or 0800 789 321 (Anti-Terrorist Hotline).