Teaching youngsters to make anti-extremism videos ‘effective’ in tackling radicalisation

Defence think tank says schemes in Kuala Lumpur and Bangladesh have helped children

A police officer lays flowers near to the scene of reported multiple stabbings in Reading, Britain, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Teaching at-risk youngsters how to make anti-radicalisation videos is an effective way to tackle extremism, experts say.

Researchers from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think tank have been analysing various ways that communication can help combat extremism.

They say that using a counter-extremism model that involves teaching vulnerable youngsters how to make anti-radicalisation videos for sharing with peers has produced positive results.

Priyank Mathur, the founder of Mythos Labs, a strategic communications company that counters terrorist narratives through comedy, believes that his work has been successful.

“It is more easy to train people to create these campaigns themselves,” Mr Mathur said.

“We find a lot of success in workshops [we have run] in Bangladesh and Kuala Lumpur, teaching youngsters how to make their own videos. Sometimes the young children in these small communities are at risk of extremism and can write what they know.

“It is teaching people how to fish rather than giving them fish.”

Mr Mathur said that the use of entertainment in messages aimed at preventing extremism had been a “win” but warned there was no magical solution.

I think, in a nutshell, we are trying to make viewers see a reality from a different perspective than what they are used to seeing

“Entertainment has attracted people’s attention much more,” he said.

“There is no silver bullet. No one can say this campaign works 100 per cent to stop making people violent extremists. We have looked at anti-smoking and anti-drugs campaigns to see what has and has not been successful.

“We have to make sure we do not do stuff that causes more harm. I think, in a nutshell, we are trying to make viewers see a reality from a different perspective than what they are used to seeing.”

Micah Clark, programme director at Moonshot CVE, a London-based social enterprise dedicated to disrupting violent extremism, said that the reality of extremism could be brought home effectively when victims of terror talked about attacks and the impact they have.

“Intelligence-led approaches do work,” Mr Clark said. “Extremist users are internet users like the rest of us. It is important to talk with users rather than talking at them.

“It is the value of honesty and directness in the messages - trying to mislead someone out of any at-risk situation is going to fail. People see authentic behaviour pretty quickly. Directness and honesty are important

“The challenge we are trying to make is creating an opening for people to consider a different perspective.”

A research paper published by Rusi last month urged teachers not to shy away from addressing challenging issues when teaching youngsters about extremism.

It said that encouraging young people to question radicalisation issues was more effective than telling children simply to treat each other nicely.

Recent UN security reports have also highlighted the importance of deradicalisation programmes across Europe.

They warned that more effective programmes needed to be implemented to prevent radicalisation given the impending release of thousands of ISIS fighters from prisons.

Last month, the UK’s Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer, admitted that the nation needed to do more to tackle radicalisation.

Ms Frazer said that the UK had trained 22 imams to run deradicalisation programmes in prisons but there needed to be more places in transitionary premises for inmates returning to society.

She said the government took the threat posed by terrorists “very seriously” and pointed to an approach that included psychological, theological and mental health interventions.

In the past eight months, three terrorist attacks in the UK have been blamed on recently released prisoners acting alone.