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Online-Radicalisation: Myth or Reality?


Title: Online-Radicalisation: Myth or Reality?

Author: Linda Schlegel

Date of Publication: September 2018

Journal / Publisher: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), Sankt Augustin/Berlin

Country of publication: Germany

Purpose of the study

Key questions 

Online Radicalisation 

Design of the study




To gain support for terrorist organisations

Key findings 

The Internet is often an important factor, but not the only element which contributes to radicalisation.

Online radicalisation is both part of the strategy employed by potentially violent extremists and also a by-product of the proliferation of social media among the adherents of these groups. 

Not always is official propaganda the main driver, but rather, discussions started among users often become accelerators of the processes of radicalisation.

The new focus on the radicalisation of children on the Internet is a cause for concern and demands a comprehensive approach to combatting it. Both the supply and the demand for online propaganda must be curbed. This can only succeed if we view the phenomenon not solely through a security lens.

Key recommendations 

A new challenge for security agencies and civil society organizations involved in prevention and de-radicalisation is the spread of instant messenger services such as Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp. A second challenge is the increasingly intensifying gamification of propaganda material. This also means a greater risk to children and adolescents.

Online propaganda will not disappear completely nor will online radicalisation be prevented completely. Both of these will continue to concern us for years to come. It is therefore of utmost importance to do more research into this phenomenon and to find an interdisciplinary approach to explain it; especially at the interface of sociology, psychology and communication sciences.

Reviewer's Notes

There are still not enough systematic, empirical studies on this subject area and our knowledge is generally limited to known perpetrator profiles. Nevertheless, some general statements can be made regarding online radicalisation

Ever since the case of Australian teenager Jake Bilardi, who travelled to the territories of IS and in 2015, at the age of 19, committed a suicide attack in Ramadi (Iraq), however, it is not just online communication by extremists that is in focus, but also the phenomenon of online radicalisation.

Two factors which facilitate online radicalisation should be highlighted in particular: 

Firstly, it must be noted that the younger generation, the so-called digital natives, accept online media much more naturally as a part of their lives and their social relationships than older generations do. This means that the importance of face-to-face communication is declining and online contacts are encountered with great trust.

Secondly, the so-called filter bubble or echo chambers should be mentioned. Social media  accounts show their users only things which their friends share, content of pages that they have “liked” or have subscribed to and offer the possibility of blocking many items which the users do not like. This creates an echo chamber, in which political views and ideologies are reflected from all sides like the echo in a cave. It gives the impression that everyone has the same opinion.

Even if we currently still lack extensive empirical evidence and exact figures regarding online radicalisation, the importance online media in many newer perpetrator profiles is indisputable, whether as Foreign Fighters or as Homegrown Terrorists

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