Online Radicalisation - Are you safe from it?
Updated: May 12
Trigger Warning: World War II, Radicalism, Racism, Buffalo Shooting (2022)
In an age where your eyeballs are constantly glued to your mobile device, it is hard to say that you are not influenced by what you see. The internet is essentially a vast black hole where you can find information on almost anything or anyone.
In retrospect, exposure to a wide variety of material and knowledge is essential to developing one's ideologies - but this comes at a cost. What determines whether the material we are exposed to is proper or ethically correct? What convinces us to adapt our values to various perspectives on the internet? These are important questions that everyone in this day and age must ask themselves. And this alludes to the primary purpose of this article: Online radicalisation.
Radicalisation, in simple terms, is when individuals' values and ideologies get influenced to a point where they develop extremist behaviour. And it has always happened. It happened during World War II when Hitler wanted people to think like him, to think genocide, to think harm because they were 'different.' But now, it looks different. Radicalisation can happen to anyone, anywhere.
It does seem indifferent that social media, a norm of today's society, can be a window susceptible to radicalisation. Social media has been the picnic spot for extremist individuals to lure people into their agenda of harm. In conjunction with the Office of eSafety Commissioners' online report, approximately 33% of young people have reported being a victim of viewing and accessing online content that promotes terrorism. What is the issue here? The unthoughtful consumption of social media by people.
When you scrolled on TikTok (or any social media) today, let me ask you how many times you stopped and thought about what the video or the post was about. How often did you reflect on the content presented to you in the hours you spent scrolling?
A TEDx talk by Kaustav Mukherjee talks about this issue and how all social media users are blinded by the sorting algorithms that determine what they are presented with. Social media such as Youtube, Instagram, and TikTok work based on an algorithm. So, when you first use a social network, you are welcomed with several questions about your interests; this helps the app determine what content to present to keep you engaged.
It is human nature for people to find other individuals who are like-minded and share their ideologies. This becomes an issue when this is done online, as one does not know who is behind that screen? For example, if I hate pineapple on pizza, I must search to find people who hate it. If I typed in 'r/pineapple pizza hate' on Reddit, I would be presented with a surplus of opinions that support my view. This is the same for any extremist behaviour.
There are usually three stages to radicalisation considered by The Youth Justice Board, and the following are true for almost all types of radicalisation:
Pre-radicalisation Radicalisation has the target audience of the vulnerable people of our society and it is important to note that these vulnerable people can be anyone - including you. Children and teenagers who are often lonely and vulnerable turn to social media for solace and this is the extremist golden ticket!
In an interview given by Lauren Manning, a former white nationalist, to the Clarion project, she states, "I didn't have a strong sense of self back then. What I was looking for was something to wrap my identity around". Extremists use this missing void within people as a levy to fill it in with an identity that they crave.
Self-identification This is the early stage where the individuals get exposed to specific ideologies. This is when one deviates from their old values and shifts their moral compass as they believe they communicate with like-minded individuals.
Indoctrination This is the stage where the individuals intensify their beliefs to specific ideologies, making them a threat to people around them.
An excellent example of indoctrinating people into being radical is the recent, devastating, and shocking shootings at Buffalo, New York. This article from news.com.au presents that Payton Grendon was influenced by the social media platform 4chan. 4Chan is an anonymous forum where people can post their views/ideologies/interests etc.
According to Gerndon's testimonies during the time of the COVID-19 lockdown, he was tempted to browse 4Chan, specifically the forums, where they promote racist and anti-Semitic views. "Mycurrent beliefs started when I first started to use 4chan a few months after covid started" he shared.
Now, I want you as a reader to imagine your friend or your child sitting in front of a screen reading sickening descriptions of racism and hate towards people. Imagine them engrossed, their eyes fixated on it, consuming the content, thinking it is correct.
An internet forum influenced a mere 18-year-old, isn't that shocking? I am not shocked at all! The internet is an unfathomably large pit consisting of much-unfiltered content. When young adults like Payton browse the internet, they are presented with unfiltered forums where individuals propose ideologies and values that are morally, ethically, and in every aspect unacceptable.
Payton confirms that "Every time I think maybe I shouldn't commit to an attack, I spend 5 min [on] /pol/, then my motivation returns". Poor, oblivious minds, like that of Payton, fall under the unthoughtful consumption of the vastness of the internet, and fall as prey to such extremist views. This is just one example of white supremacist extremism.
Other examples include Jihadist Terrorists. These individuals use religion as a pawn to play their game of chess in the real world. They use the internet to create a 'safe haven' where the vulnerable are shown this facade where they can express themselves and their religion more faithfully to please Allah. These extremists guilt-trip Islamic adherents through Arabic-speaking scholars as mouthpieces in piecing together their plans of terrorism. (Kamolnick 2017; Kimmage 2010, 2; Wage-makers 2011)
So what does this all mean? All I am trying to do is spread awareness of radicalisation and how everyone in the 21st century is subject to it. It does not matter if you only watch cat videos on the internet or only read the Reddit forums where they talk about the best type of cheese, we are ALL subject to radicalisation.
Maybe, right now, at this moment, someone YOU know is being radicalised on the internet. So next time you mindlessly scroll on Instagram or Twitter, stop, take a minute, question what you are reading and being exposed to. Think about it rationally and make an educated choice where you voice your morals.
I am exhilarated to be part of the Safe on Social Youth Advisory Committee. I am an individual who enjoys meeting new people and, most notably, making a difference that helps our ever-so-expanding world. Being an avid social media user has enabled me to be a part of our digital community, a norm in our society. Therefore, making our collective digital interaction more safe and secure is one of my many interests that drove my passion for being a part of Safe on Social.