Violent extremists use the Internet to attract younger audiences, to disseminate content and to foster direct dialogue with young people, a United Nations agency-backed study found, but more research is needed to find out if social media has an effective role in radicalization.
“Rather than being initiators or causes of violent behaviours, the Internet and social media specifically can be facilitators within wider processes of violent radicalization,” according to research conducted for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The goal of the study was to answer the question: “Does social media lead vulnerable individuals to resort to violence?”
According to the authors, violent radicalization generally entails a number of tools, and should be seen in the context of other communication platforms and significant social factors, such as the political, social, cultural, economic and psychological causes
The findings, Youth and violent extremism on social media, are based on more than 550 studies in Arabic, English and French which were published in scientific literature and so-called “grey literature” outside of the traditional and publishing channels.
The study also found that the use of social media is meant to foster fear among internet users and to polarize societies.
In response, attempts to combat social media use have not proved effective, but could “damage online freedoms, especially freedom of expression, freedom of information, privacy and the right to association,” the study reported.
Among other points, the authors recommend that Governments should recognize the status of women as both actors and targets of online radicalizations, and support greater representation of women.
The study also recommends that news media avoid “fearmongering, stereotyping, confirmation bias, fake news and the creation of “media panics”, and to reassert the importance of media ethics in the face of radicalization of young people for violent extremism.”