Extremist Content on the Internet
The internet has become the new battleground in which hearts and minds are won for, or against extremism. In June 2017, the first female Singaporean was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for pro-ISIS activities. The 22 year old lady who worked inconspicuously in a Preschool run by the PAP Community Foundation, had planned to travel to Syria with her children in tow to become a “martyr's widow” for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In 2015, a 19 year old male was likewise arrested for joining terrorism related activities and intending to conduct terrorist attacks on Singapore soil.
With social media being used by so many impressionable teenagers and youth, the Islamic State has come to realise the huge potential digital media has in allowing them to connect and reach millions around the world. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, peer to peer messaging apps such as Telegram, and content sharing systems like JustPaste.it. were used in an effort to maximise their reach. The terrorist group creates varied content that caters to niche audiences - with portrayals of economic development, military triumphs and public work projects all aimed at convincing potential recruits of the organization’s stable and growing nature. Digital propaganda has so far been able to motivate over 30,000 people to leave behind everything they knew for dangerous lands, where they have been told a paradise awaits.
The success and technical adeptness of the Islamic State’s social media juggernaut has made attempts at neutralising its influence both unsuccessful and unviable. Combined with a common sentiment among young people who aspire to do something better and significant with his or her life, or perhaps a feeling of being unable to fit in or belong to his existing environment, the Islamic State’s social media influence gains significant traction among teenagers and youth in our midst.
How might you know that someone is inadvertently becoming brainwashed by extremist propaganda? An indicator might be the content he or she is posting on social media. Is the content sympathetic towards the plight of extremists? Does the content incite violence against enemies of the Islamic state? Alternatively, has the individual “withdrawn into him or herself, displaying anti-social behaviour, rejecting every form of authority, or life in a community?”
Prevention is however, better than cure. As a friend or as a parent, it is important to be aware of how your peers or children are behaving online, what sites they frequent, and to maintain some degree of accountability.