A group of four children crowd round a child with a mobile phone and look at the screen

Building Resilience to Online Extremism

By Assia Hussain, Prevent Education Officer (Calderdale) and former teacher

Adolescent years are often a time of searching for adventure, excitement and looking for answers to questions about who you are and where you fit in this big wide world. As the online world is easy to access and claims to offer all the above, many young people will often turn to the internet for help or friendship.

Extremist groups will entice young people by claiming to offer the adventure, excitement and a strong social network, sometimes through the internet or sometimes through encrypted social media apps and forums.

Often without realising it, young people may be sharing online information that has been cherry-picked, manipulated and shared by extremist or terrorist groups to further spread their divisive messages and target vulnerable individuals to harm themselves and others for their hateful cause. We have seen this during the pandemic, where false and misleading narratives about the virus have been spread, particularly online, often to place blame on ‘out-groups’ and minorities. Another example would be misinformation shared on social media by far-right extremist groups claiming that Muslims are burning poppies and wanting to ban Christmas.

There have been a number of tragic examples where vulnerable young people have been misled by extremist groups using false information to persuade them into criminal activity, with some travelling abroad for terrorist purposes and others committing terrorist offences in the UK.

Teachers play an important role in giving young people the tools to keep themselves safe from many dangers, including extremism. I know from experience that school staff will often raise their hands in despair and exclaim they are not counter-terrorism experts. I agree, not many of us came into the teaching profession to save the world from terrorists, but we did come into the profession to educate young people so that they could have a better future. We may not have a PhD in Counter-Terrorism Studies, but as teachers we all have the skills to encourage our students to question and critically assess information. In fact, you will have been promoting these skills day-in and day-out, perhaps without even giving it much attention.

What is objective analysis?

As teachers when we set an assignment for our students, we encourage them to consider different arguments and find evidence to support each argument, use different sources of information to ensure that they have accurate information and finally to consider alternative explanations and opinions before writing a conclusion.

Similar criteria can be used by young people when accessing information online. We can encourage our students to quickly think about the following questions before engaging with any information online:

  • Why am I reading this?
  • Where did I see it?
  • Who created it?
  • When was it created?
  • How was it created (language/images used)?
  • Is it factual or opinion based?
  • What is the creator trying to achieve?
  • Does it promote hatred towards others?

By referring to these questions regularly, students start to build a habit that will ultimately help counter and reduce the spread of any extremist narratives that they may come across.

Next step: See which of Educate Against Hate’s many online safety resources would work in your classroom

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