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Social media and extremism

Parents, carers, friends and colleagues should be alert to signs of extremism in vulnerable people who may be being brainwashed through social media, say police.

National Policing Lead for the Prevent Programme Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy said: “The police cannot be in every mosque, college or other community venue monitoring what is discussed and the doctrines which are promoted. Nor would we want Britain to be such a society. We need parents, schools, partners, friends and colleagues to be aware of the signs that someone is being influenced by extremist messages and have the confidence to report any concerns to the police. Look out for notable changes in behaviour and mood; those vulnerable may begin to express extreme political or radical views, or appear increasingly sympathetic to terrorist acts; their appearance may change along with the friends that they spend time with or they may start to spend excessive time on their own or on the internet.”

Anyone with concerns about the welfare of a young person can seek help from the police, social services or the school or college. If there are concerns that anyone is involved in terrorism or planning to travel to a war zone then contact the Anti-Terrorist Hotline. All concerns will be investigated sensitively and appropriately, the authorities say, and could save lives.

The UK’s ‘Prevent’ counter-terrorism strategy covers all forms of terrorism, including far right extremism and some aspects of non-violent extremism. People who are found to be at risk of radicalisation are then offered support through the Channel process, which involves several agencies working together to give individuals access to services such as health, education, specialist mentoring and diversionary activities. Between 2007 and 2014 there were 3934 referrals to the Channel process.

Fahy said: “There has been a lot of questioning about the impact of the Prevent programme. Every year agencies working together divert young people away from crime and gangs, and we take the same approach in Prevent. At its heart, Prevent is about basic safeguarding with teachers, social services, youth organisations and health workers acting together to identify and support those at risk.”

Prevent Engagement Officers (PEOs) operate in forces across the UK.

Every day the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU) takes down unlawful terrorist material from the web but the CTIRU says that it needs more support from internet providers and from the public. Since the unit was formed in February 2010, the CTIRU has removed 65,000 pieces of online terrorist content from the internet and removes about 1,000 pieces of content a week to help combat on-line radicalisation.

Sir Peter has welcomed the government’s decision to make Prevent a statutory duty because it places clear obligations on public agencies to work together. He says: “This is crucial in combating extremist ideologies promoting violent extremism and hatred. A joint effort is essential, particularly involving schools, youth organisations, places of worship and of course parents.

“Over the past few years, the nature of the threat to our young people has changed as the extremist ideology is spread through social media and other material on the web. It now reaches right into their bedrooms and, indeed, wherever the web can be accessed from; making it so much harder for parents and schools to protect those who may be drawn in by attempts to glorify extreme violence. “Sadly, we have now seen a number of cases where young people have been driven to leave their homes and families and put themselves at high risk by travelling to Syria solely motivated by what they have been exposed to on the web.”


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