The Fight Against Radicalisation Is Now An Online Battlefield

By Claire Stead, Online Safety Ambassador at Smoothwall

The online world is not a parallel universe. Since its inception, its influence on our lives has grown dramatically – you only need to look at the issues around fake news to see how the effect of a warped and biased narrative can have on the way people think. The internet is a hotbed of knowledge, opinions and stories, which can be accessed by anyone and everyone with an internet connection. While the vast majority use this as a tool of learning and insight, there are those who have more sinister intentions.

Since the heinous attack on the Manchester concert, Theresa May has insisted that world leaders need to do more to combat online extremism. The fight with ISIS and terrorism is a complex one and, as the Prime Minister put it, has moved “from the battlefield to the internet.”

So who is responsible for weeding out radical ideas and what can be done to help?

The truth is that you don’t have to be a soldier to play a part in tackling radicalisation. Whether you’re a community member, a teacher, a parent or a tech company, we all have a responsibility to protect our very way of life that we hold so sacred.

Theresa May has said that she will work with leaders and tech companies across the globe to “stop the spread of hateful extremist ideology on social media” – and she is right to say that. It’s far too easy to see gruesome and inappropriate images online, such as on social media platforms. Terrorists are inspired by the content they see online; whether this is bomb-making instructions, violent videos on YouTube or inflammatory websites. Just last year, Twitter suspended 235,000 accounts in sixth months for promoting terrorism, but there are still plenty more actively supporting terrorist causes.

Young people – who are both most exposed to the online world and the most vulnerable – need to be protected and shielded better than anyone. This education, between what is right and just and true, begins at home and in the school.

Educational establishments, by law, must have the correct web filtering and monitoring in place to safeguard children when they’re online, so that no child can access harmful content via the school’s IT systems and concerns can be spotted quickly. This legislation, introduced by the Department for Education (DfE) in September 2016, along with the Prevent duty, released in 2015, is designed to ensure schools have appropriate tools in place to safeguard children from radical and extreme material online.

Extremist content, the dark web, violent videos, gun-selling websites and social media in general, for example, can all be blocked with the latest filtering and monitoring solutions. As children spend the majority of their time at school (and an increasing part of that time online), educational establishments now have a huge role to play in stopping the spread of radicalisation.

Similarly, parents and the community also need to be aware of those who they think might be radicalised, spotting the signs early and alerting the relevant body. If you are concerned about someone, NSPCC have a helpline that you can contact: 0800 800 5000

Tackling radicalisation takes a concerted effort from everyone. The buck neither starts nor stops with social media companies, but they have a huge role to play in tackling content that breeds extremism. There might not be a magic algorithm that can wipe out extremist content as soon as it is uploaded; the matter is far more complex than that. But let’s work together to make the community, the internet and society a better and safer place.

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