Social media platforms represent a prime channel for these youth groups to recruit and radicalize followers.
By Sharon Wrobel, The Algemeiner
A new report published on Tuesday explored how a generation of far-right teenagers are using mainstream social media platforms, including Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and Telegram, to radicalize and recruit other teens and young people into racist and antisemitic ideologies.
Research for the report was carried out by two UK organizations, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) and the Community Security Trust (CST). In view of the rising number of teens arrested for terrorism offenses, the report — “We are Generation Terror!”: Youth-on-youth Radicalization in Extreme-Right Youth Groups” — dove deep into the dynamics and recruitment strategies of ten racial nationalist youth groups across Western Europe.
The groups include recently convicted British Hand activists, who operate mainly online; the rapidly-growing Spanish group Bastión Frontal; and the UK’s Blutkrieg Division, founded by a 16-year-old boy in Newcastle, who has been convicted of encouraging terrorism and stirring up racial and religious hatred.
“Young people – politicized, active and highly connected – are no longer just passive consumers of online terrorist content by adult groomers but are themselves propaganda creators, group organizers, peer recruiters, extremist financiers and terrorist convicts,” wrote ICSR Research Fellow Hannah Rose, who co-authored the report.
“The nature of these trends demonstrate the ways in which young people are radicalizing each other to violence: encouraging their peers to commit violent acts through online interactions, creating and sharing violent propaganda and recruiting one another to groups that socialize young people towards plotting and preparing violence,” she wrote.
The extreme-right youth groups investigated have been active since 2018, have an average membership age of under 25, and are linked to arrests for hate crimes, incitement to violence and planning of terrorist attacks. They spread ideologies of racial nationalism by stoking conspiracy theories, like the belief that governments, elites and Jew are engaged in a deliberate effort to erase the white race by bringing immigrants, and predominately Muslims, to the West.
“With very limited exceptions, all groups in the sample demonstrate antisemitic beliefs, demonizing the Jewish community and often depicting them as the root of various problems. This includes promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories and occasionally inciting violence against the Jewish community,” the report stated. “Islamophobia and xenophobia are also common.”
Social media platforms represent a prime channel for these youth groups to recruit and radicalize followers, pushing their messages out to the masses while circumventing content moderation policies. One common practice found among a number of extreme-right actors’ online activities was described as “content funneling.” Relatively moderate content is hosted on mainstream social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, with those accounts then used to redirect users to others on alternative platforms like Telegram, where more extremist and violent content can be more easily shared.
“This allows groups to maintain a presence across mainstream platforms, bypassing companies’ moderation algorithms, while guiding followers down radicalization pipelines and recruiting young people into their movements,” the report explained. “Notably, the groups were more attracted to platforms popular with individuals of their generation – in particular, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.”
Children now comprise 13 percent of terror suspects in the UK, the report noted, a figure that tripled in the past year. Another group analyzed was the Feuerkrieg Division, whose own 16-year-old founder became in February the youngest person in the UK ever convicted of terrorism.
Online Feuerkrieg content has been seen encouraging followers to attack Jews, Muslims, and immigrants, and to “start making bombs and destroy the government.”
Other groups studied included the Eisenjugend, which has branded itself the “American branch” of the neo-Nazi group Iron Youth; and the Sonnenkrieg Division, whose leader, Andrew Dymock, was this year convicted for calling for all Jews to be “exterminated.”
The ICSR/CST report urged social media companies to take a more holistic approach to content moderation and removal, and called upon lawmakers and law enforcement to “continually reassess” the threat posed by young racial nationalists.
“Incitement to violence and the plots and acts planned by young people demonstrate that young racial nationalists cannot merely be disregarded as threats on the basis of their age,” the report warned. “The increasingly young age of convicted terrorists, while shocking, does not render them less capable than adults at committing equally as serious acts.”