The Guardian’s view on children and the far-right web: schools need help

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The number of people known to be involved in far-right extremism in Britain remains very small. But as this week’s Guardian investigation showed, there is reason to be concerned about the age at which a minority of boys are being influenced online by far-right views, including racism and misogyny. In January, a 13-year-old boy from Darlington became the youngest person to be convicted of terrorism crimes. Teachers and principals are struggling to cope with the kinds of language and attitudes that students find on their devices and then bring into classrooms.

Given that 19 out of 20 children arrested last year for terrorism crimes were linked to far-right ideology, the suggestion made in a leaked draft of William Shawcross’s review of the Prevent program that far-right activists received disproportionate attention compared to Islamists seems highly questionable. – at least as far as young people are concerned. When the review is complete, it should address the teachers’ concerns. These refer to the tools available to tackle a growing problem, as well as the problem itself. Safeguarding training for education professionals, youth workers and others should extend to recognizing where students have been harmed by material viewed or read online. These adults need the confidence and knowledge to engage and challenge young people – particularly teenagers – when they exhibit such influences.

Online safety law plays a crucial role. For a long time children were unprotected in virtual spaces. Whatever happens when the bill returns to parliament in the fall, new rules that oblige social platforms to ensure that children do not encounter specific forms of inappropriate content, and oblige them to tell Ofcom how they will achieve this, should be supported by all. the parties. Companies should be held accountable for the role algorithms can play in radicalizing of various kinds, amplifying what might start as a user’s curiosity – expressed in a search term – into a concern or fixation.

All this terrain remains complex and contested. Analyzing the connections between, for example, the wide availability of violent pornography on the Internet and misogynistic attitudes “in real life” is not a simple task. While concerns about far-right extremism include, of course, the potential for such ideas to be put into practice, for example, in violent attacks on minorities, it is not possible to draw a simple line between online and offline. Particularly in the lives of young people who grew up with the internet, the two blend together.

In the words of radicalization expert Prof Paul Jackson, reality today is “much messier” than far-right models of culture and organization based on 20th century events. The proliferation of highly discriminatory language and behavior in the digital landscape should not be confused with the threat of terrorism. But no one should be indifferent to its impact – particularly on the minority of boys who are most susceptible. Protecting young people from toxic ideologies and conspiracy theories is an urgent matter of protection. If we are to make any progress, well-informed teachers and other adults will be needed along with regulatory and technological changes.

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