Children: extremism and online radicalization

There can be few greater fears for a parent than their child being contacted by a stranger, indoctrinated with an extreme ideology, and encouraged to join a violent movement, all while accessing the internet from their bedroom. Children’s smartphones and computers
may be portals to the most dangerous places on earth. The use of the internet, and more specifically social media, by violent extremists is certainly nothing new. The technical skills and proficiency displayed by groups such as ISIS have been causing concern for governments, law enforcement, industry, schools, religious leaders, and parents around the world. In reality the radicalization of children is rare and particularly nuanced, and far from a linear process that exclusively occurs online. While the media have reported high-profile cases, such as the teenagers from Chicago who tried to leave the United States and join ISIS or the three girls from the United Kingdom who traveled through Turkey to Syria the frequency and nature of conversion to violent extremism is a lot more complex than often reported. Evidence from search histories, online interactions and social media profiles suggest that contact is being made by those intent on radicalizing others. However, while information can be sought and contact can be initiated, complete conversion to a violent ideology is not happening in isolation online. That is to say that the internet is serving as a facilitator, not a direct means of recruitment. In any case action needs to be taken to safeguard children and young people from these risks.