We’ve known for years that it can be all too easy for people to become radicalized without even leaving home. The proliferation of extremist spaces and content online has created new and powerful avenues for radicalization, especially for young people who are often the targets of radical-right propaganda.
This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing most Americans to remain at home for months on end amid great social, political and economic uncertainty, the threat of online radicalization is bigger than ever – and parents and caregivers need to know how to respond.
That’s why today, in partnership with American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), we are releasing a guide to help parents, caregivers and educators understand how extremists are exploiting this time of unrest and targeting children and young adults. The guide – Building Resilience & Confronting Risk in the COVID-19 Era – provides tangible steps to counter the threat of online radicalization, including information on the new risks during the COVID-19 crisis, how to recognize warning signs, and how to get help and engage a radicalized child or young adult.
“The tremendous insecurity brought on by crises can make the kinds of simplistic solutions offered by far-right extremists more appealing,” said PERIL Director and Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss. “For extremists, this is an ideal time to exploit youth grievances about their lack of agency, their families’ economic distress, and their intense sense of disorientation, confusion, fear and anxiety. In the absence of their usual social support systems and networks of trusted adults and peers, youths become targets for the far-right, who promise easy answers about who they can blame for their plight.”
More than 70 million children and young adults are now learning primarily at home or entering a summer vacation with no camps, employment or other structured activities. Parents and caregivers are now often the only adults whom young people interact with on a regular basis. Now more than ever, adults must be equipped with the tools to help children navigate internet spaces and resist extremist narratives.
The guide is available for free here. We encourage you to share it widely with parents, caregivers, educators and anyone else who is in a position to help steer young people through this difficult time.
Illustration by Claudia Whitaker