With crime trends being dynamic, the youth are increasingly exposed to new threats that often go undetected until it is too late. Mobile phones and internet usage have increased the youth’s vulnerability to influence by external sources, thus increasing the likelihood of radicalism tenfold. Intelligence gathered from media and crime reports over the past year have indicated that the internet, and social media in particular, have become definite conduits for the passing of radical content, with extremists finding it an easier means to put their ideas across to a wider populace.
According to Securex Chief Operating Officer Daniel Lemmer, the use of the internet as a means to radicalize the youth has been a feature of terrorist activity for over a decade now. However, this phenomenon has particularly gained traction in East Africa over the last five years or so.
“Terrorism-related content has been available online for a while now, but as these extremist groups borrow heavily from one another, the Al Shabaab here in East Africa have become quite proficient at its use. It is now easier to clamp down on recruitment cells in mosques and other physical locations, but we have found it more difficult as security agencies to battle extremism online. As national security organs work to clamp down on this, it is important for parents and guardians to monitor how their children interact online to a certain extent.”
Intelligence gathered on this topic also indicates a gap that extremists exploit to their advantage-lack of control. Globally, the Islamic State have taken on Social Media at an exponential rate, with the use of sophisticated software allowing the group to send tweets in excess of 40,000 per day according to various international media reports. The Al Shabaab have had an online presence since 2011, most famously using Twitter to not only spread extremist propaganda but to provide live updates of terrorist attacks such as the Westgate Mall attack in 2013. More often than not Social Media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are used to first reach out to potential recruits before then roping these recruits to secure private messaging applications to enhance one-on-one engagement.
“While it has proven difficult to control extremist content online, on a domestic level it is possible to control what our youth are exposed to whenever they are online. Most guardians feel that radicalism cannot affect their children, so they become pretty lax when it comes to monitoring them. Many do not realize until it is too late, as was the case with a 14-year old boy who was arrested by the Police in October 2015 after being exposed to radicalism by an Al Shabaab recruitment cell that was operating here in Nairobi.”
Peer pressure does drive the youth to the use of smart phones and engaging on Social Media, and guardians are often even unaware that their children have mobile phones or that they engage in Social Media. It is therefore advisable for guardians to even buy their children a mobile phone themselves, of course when they feel that the time is right. Beyond this, more forms of control can be exercised. Access to the internet could be controlled through the amount of airtime or internet bundles purchased, or restricting mobile phone use to only certain times of the day. It is also important to know whether your child is active on Social Media, and what kind of information they interact with when they are online.
Mr. Lemmer also feels that the war on terror may well be won or lost online with the curbing of the spread of extremist ideas. Currently it has proven difficult for governments or Social Media networks to clamp down on this as they are sometimes reliant on third-party reports or complaints before suspending or blocking an offensive Social Media user, at which point one would simply open a different Social Media account and continue with their activity. In February 2016 for instance, Twitter announced that it had blocked over 125,000 accounts since mid-2015, and while this is certainly commendable, radicalism online still persists.
“What we are perhaps struggling to contain at the moment is the spread of these ideas, and their appeal to our youth. It is all well and good to kill a member of the Al Shabaab for instance, but it is infinitely more difficult to kill an idea. These beliefs live on, and they keep spreading online, and we need to be on guard against this.”