Modern day world is plagued by a number of challenges that have had nations pledge huge resources towards addressing them; cardinal is violent extremism and at the heart of it lies one of the most unguarded group of people – youth and children. The saddest part about it is that not only are the youth and children at the receiving end of violent extremism but they also have been forced to play part in it.
A number of factors inform reasons why youth and children find themselves victims of violent extremism. An even worrying trend over the years is the continued rise in violent extremism among the youth catalysed by the media. A report published by UNESCO in 2017 on Youth and Violent Extremism on Social Media points out a grim picture of how social media has been turned into a haven for furthering violent extremism among the youth. It lays out how extremist groups have managed to turn social media into a tool for recruiting youth into their ranks, spreading information intended at radicalising the youth towards violence, sourcing finance from sympathizers and gathering information on vulnerable individuals with the aim of exploiting them.
As such, there is need for key players to halt this trend through creation of safe places for the youth and children in the media. A solid starting point would require countries to come up with implementable laws and regulations that will enable scrutiny of content coming in and out of social media. Key among them should be following the UN Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which specifically recommends 7 key areas for national and regional action including empowering youth, and strategic internet and social media use. It is prudent that authorities monitor content shared in the media and take necessary steps to protect children and youth from any content that would promote or expose them to violent extremism.
There has been a lot of debate on the need for the media to be independent and operate uninterrupted. When addressing violent extremism, it is imperative to tread carefully regarding free media- why, one would ask; violent extremist groups disguised under the free media doctrine, propagate their extremist agenda which reaches the vulnerable youth and children. The result; more youth and children either joining the violent extremist groups or being victims of the same.
Countries across the globe, the International community, faith organizations and media houses should come up with laws governing ownership, licensing and content that comes out of the media. It is truth beyond doubt that for instance a terror group owned TV station will air content glorifying terrorism and the need for ‘religious’ war. However, mainstream media need to predominantly focus on how the war against violent extremism is being won as opposed to how majority media houses train their cameras on events involving violent extremist groups and the conflicts they propagate.
Well positioned to influence behavior and actions of youth in societies, religious leaders need to take advantage of the ubiquitous social media to create and advance conversations aimed at preventing and countering and transforming violent extremism. Influential figures as they are, religious leaders, can play a big role by spreading messages against violent extremism online.
Lastly, counter-narrative has been proven an essential tool in negating violent extremism. Counter-narrative is proven and effective way of countering violent extremism through use of videos or messages aimed at deconstructing extremist ideologies. Its versatility makes it an effective strategy as it can be hosted both on mainstream and social media.
Conclusively, the media offers a vibrant platform for preventing, countering and transforming violent extremism. In the same breadth, the media can be a fertile for recruiting, forming and perpetuating violent extremism. It all depends how we use and govern the media. It is therefore imperative to rightfully use and govern the media so as to aid in preventing violent extremism. By extension, we shall have provided a safe space for the youth and children, devoid of poverty and violence.