COVID-19 and Online Radicalisation
The impact of COVID-19 means that most of us have been spending more time at home over the last year or so, and as a result we’re likely to be online a lot more.
It goes without saying that the online world delivers huge benefits; keeping us connected to family and friends, providing groceries and retail therapy at the click of a button, and it’s a necessity for many children in accessing schoolwork. However, many parents also feel concerned about the kind of content their children are accessing.
Some of this content may be extreme or violent in nature. Although rare, there is a risk that increased online activity and feelings of stress and isolation may be exploited to target vulnerable children and young people directly. Sadly, but perhaps predictably, extremists have been using the COVID-19 outbreak to promote hateful views, whether that’s through spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories blaming a particular group for the virus, or through baseless claims regarding these groups’ responses to it.
It’s important to safeguard loved ones from a range of online harms, whether that’s child sexual exploitation, fraud, or extremist influences seeking to radicalise vulnerable people.
Teachers, healthcare practitioners, social workers, the police, charities, psychologists and religious leaders work together to safeguard those vulnerable to radicalisation through a safeguarding programme known as Prevent.
Prevent protects people from being drawn into hateful extremism – regardless of the ideology. It works in a similar way to safeguarding processes designed to protect people from gangs, drug abuse, and physical and sexual exploitation.
At the heart of Prevent is the delivery of projects in communities through local Civil Society Organisations, playing a crucial role in building resilience and increasing understanding of radicalisation. Last year, Prevent supported 226 projects in communities, reaching over 140,000 participants. Around half of these were delivered in schools. Two of these projects, which have a particular focus on digital literacy, separating fact from fiction, and building young people’s resilience to online radicalisation of all forms are Skips Safety Net, and Shout Out UK.
Skips Safety Net
Developed in collaboration with Prevent in response to the pandemic, Skips Safety Net helps teachers and frontline practitioners to engage parents and then their children in a concerted effort to protect young people from the threats of extremist online narratives, ideologies, and influences.
Using a blended approach of live virtual webinars and remote learning resources, Safety Net educates parents with the understanding of how to recognise the methods used by perpetrators to increase vulnerability to online radicalisation, grooming and exploitation. Unique Safety Net books enable parents to then continue the remote learning confidently in the home, and start the process of having open and honest discussions with their children on keeping safe from extremist content and developing digital resilience when using the internet, social media and playing online games. Regularly updated digital Safety Net Parental Guides continue to support families on an ongoing basis, and help safeguard against the emerging threats as the online world continues to evolve. To give you a bit more information on how the project works, Skips Safety Net have produced this short informational video.
Shout Out UK
Shout Out UK’s mission is to help young people acquire the skills needed to stay protected against the dangers of online radicalisation, and to inspire in them a sense of responsible digital citizenship. Their three-week programme on Extremism and Media Literacy, which provides young people with the opportunity to confront the issues of right-wing extremism and radicalisation in a classroom environment, teaches them to think critically about what they see online. Students are taught to spot problematic online behaviours and equipped with the critical thinking skills, emotional resilience and practical tools to tackle it themselves.
The lessons are applied in the context of popular online forums that will be familiar to the students, where anonymity can sometimes fuel the normalisation of expressing extreme views and hateful content. As well as using examples that resonate with young people, Shout Out UK structure delivery to be as interactive and relevant as possible, relying on animations, quizzes and social media case studies to drive open dialogue. These methods translate well to the new pandemic-affected teaching environment, using virtual workshops and resources on their e-platform to deliver the content online. The course thoroughly covers values integral to the Prevent programme by teaching students to understand democracy, the rule of law, and the importance of tolerance between groups of people, such as different faith groups. The lessons also address the importance of rehabilitation and prevention, demonstrating the need for an approach to extremism that goes beyond just punishment.
Shout Out UK have been delivering the programme to pupil referral units (PRUs) and state schools since September 2020, with young people showing enormous curiosity and enthusiasm to learn about spotting misinformation, debunking conspiracy theories, and learning how to fact-check and identify extremist rhetoric.
If you have concerns around someone close to you being exploited by extremist influences, or you would like to find out more about the support available, you can visit Act Early or Educate Against Hate for information, advice and resources.