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Youth radicalisation and the role of social media

As young people, we need to develop an open mindset about issues and judge with our right mind, thinking things over before making decisions says Jiatong Shen

Young people are not backing off from politics and instead are increasingly engaged. With the increase in engagement, some publications have noted that youth radicalisation is on the rise. One of the driving forces behind it is misused data in social media.

Data Misuse and youth radicalisation.

Be it recording credit card transactions, registering a new account with personal information, or accessing health codes in the post-COVID era, data is omnipresent. Our viewing history data can be automatically recorded particularly in social media. It helps the platforms discover users’ preferences and further recommend similar contents to maximize users’ experience. 

Such a recommendation mechanism is just like a black box. Its workings are mysterious to us. However, the recommended contents are not always similar. They can be increasingly narrowed down on perspective to evoke viewers’ emotions. 

Besides the mechanism’s lack of transparency, people have become so vulnerable and accustomed to them. We have few means to explore other types of information, which limits our cognition. Such limitations can be dangerous when it comes to misinformation and disinformation, conspiracy theories, or extremisms, potentially making people a threat to society by making them more radical.

As young people are the main users of social media, we have become susceptible to youth radicalisation.

Just as South China Morning Post has reported, an attacker opened fire at two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019, killing 50 people in a Facebook live-streamed terror attack. Nearly 200 watched his murderous attack live, with many quickly replicating and sharing the footage, recycling the terrorism ideology within far-right extremism communities as propaganda materials to recruit young audiences. Attackers have already discovered such a strategic communication pattern to appeal to young people. 

Why are young people targeted?

It is probably because young people are easier to provoke. Young people tend to think less of the consequences before they act. Also, young people have a stronger sense of idealism as compared to the elderly.

Some may consider that with enough self-control not to click on such content, extremism will never approach. Unfortunately, the channels that we subscribe to can still affect us. When our subscribed channel sends or retweets a message related to extremism, our subscription data can be taken advantage of to send us similar content because algorithms consider us and those subscribed as a group. After that, we receive specialized content and gradually go deeper. 

Fortunately, social media platforms are now increasingly aware of their responsibility. They have started to refine algorithms to detect improper contents and redirect users to moderated ones. Such protections are not the terminal stations, though. Even though one nation has acted, there can still be loopholes because extremists can move to other nations to practice extremism. Therefore, international cooperation is necessary to sustain social stability. 

Changing our mindset.

As a young person, I feel that youths have strong feelings about things, whether it is about the food in school canteens, the rigorous school rules, or the tough exams. 

Perhaps it is time for young people to reflect on themselves to moderate prejudices to a certain degree. As young people, we need to develop an open mindset about issues and judge with our right mind, consulting wise adults for suggestions and thinking things over before making decisions.

In the form of binary codes, data is creeping into our life to simplify our movements. However, data can be used in social media to affect politics, but the true politicians are humans and not AI. The only decisive force lies in our hands, so thinking critically is way more important than in-class requirements. Our right minds and decisions can make a great difference to alleviate youth radicalisation.

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Youth radicalisation and the role of social media

by Jiatong Shen Reading time: 3 min