Radicalization in the Age of Technology

On July 22nd, 2011, exactly nine years ago, Anders Behring Breivik disembarked a ferry on the island of Utøya, which is situated a little off the Norwegian coast near Oslo. He was wearing a home-made police uniform and had armed himself with two guns, one semi-automatic rifle and one Glock handgun.

Then, he opened fire on the people who had visited the island for a Labour Party summer camp, killing 67 of them while two drowned in their attempts to flee the island. Only hours earlier, Breivik had placed a bomb in front of the building in which the Norwegian prime minister’s office was situated. The bomb had detonated, killing eight people. In both attacks, over 300 people are alleged to have been injured. This was the deadliest attack that Norway has seen since World War II.

Becoming radicalized

The Oxford English Dictionary describes radicalization as “the action or process of making or becoming radical, especially in political outlook”. Radicalization used to be something that happened on the fringes of society, in difficult areas and to people with troubled backgrounds. Those who became politically radical were often plagued by poverty, illness or mere desperation.

Today, however, this is no longer the case. Studies have shown that the internet greatly facilitates the dissemination of radical ideologies. Now, more than ever, this is becoming a problem: Everyone is online and thus, everyone is in danger of coming in contact with politically radical fringe groups. 

We are no longer dealing with people who loudly proclaim their affiliation with vocal, radical political minorities – now, we are dealing with people like Anders Breivik, who, to many, seemed like a normal, friendly peer.

That was the end of it, though, right?

No. That was not, in fact, the end of it.

In August 2019, a gunman walked into a mosque in Bærum, Norway, and tried to open fire on those who were praying there. However, he was overpowered and handed over to the police, who have since charged him with the murder of a woman believed to be his stepsister.

Before his attempt of mass murder, the suspect, whose name is Philip Manshaus, used social media to praise perpetrators of other far-right hate crimes which had happened recently – those in El Paso, in New Zealand, in California.

A shockwave of hate crimes has rattled the earth since Anders Breivik started shooting at teenagers on that one July afternoon. Yet somehow, no one is addressing one of the roots of this problem: unmoderated online messaging boards which have, time and time again, proven to be dangerous areas of radicalization.

The corners of the internet

There seems to be a misconception that social media platforms are mediated, that there are safe spaces in which one does not encounter the threat of radicalization. That is wrong, though. 

Reddit, which is largely considered to be a harmless place for fans to exchange ideas about, well, anything, has birthed none other than the undeniably toxic Incel culture. YouTube, which surely is one of the most-used platforms currently available, has a policy and long-standing history of not censoring content which may be harmful or even destructive to some. Twitter has been proven to be rather lax in enforcing its zero-tolerance policy when it comes to censorship.

The internet is far from perfect. It is even further from safe, if we want to be honest with ourselves. Radicalization happens everywhere, anytime. It is a problem of such a pervasive nature that there are entire books dedicated to researching its role in younger demographics.

What we need to understand, however, is that radicalization does not just happen on 4chan and in specific, unmoderated and unpoliced fora. It usually occurs right in front of our eyes, in the content that we watch on YouTube or the unknown depths of Twitter. It is the content available to young or impressionable people that we need to watch out for. 

What can we do, though?

Well, that is a tough question to ask when faced with any problem, really. Of course, there is no simple answer to it – simple answers usually promote something harmful, if history is to be believed in any way, shape or form. 

However, this is something we cannot simply accept. Radicalization needs to stop. But for this to happen, we need to be rather vigilant. It may seem like a small thing to do, but reporting problematic things we see may be a good start. We need to make platforms understand that we do not want to see radical content, no matter which political corner it claims to identify with. The consumer controls the content, not the other way around. 

Do not turn a blind eye

It is essential to do everything in our might not to give a voice to destructive ideologies. Luckily, we have the power to change what we are shown and therefore, we may also influence what others see in the long run. Especially now, in times of social distancing and the increase of the time we spend online, we need to monitor very closely what type of content we consume.

Today, on this horrible day, let us remember that terrorism is something that every person, regardless of their background and position on the political spectrum, should oppose. Thus, it is now more than ever that we need to fight for the internet to become a safe space – for everyone.

Header image by Skylor Powell on Unsplash

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About Marie Krebs

Marie is an English student with an interest in anything to do with culture. When she's not writing, she likes to read, cook and dance (preferably not all three at the same time).

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