• Addressing Online Forms of Recruitment, Propaganda and Incitement to Violence

    Welcome to Training Module 2 of the Preventing and Addressing Violent Extremism (PAVE) project on how to recognize and address online forms of recruitment, propaganda and incitement to violence in your efforts to prevent or counter violent extremism in your context. In this module, we will explore key concepts on how online platforms can be utilized to recruit various individuals and groups to share propaganda and incite violence, directed specifically towards youth, policymakers, civil society and religious actors and institutions. Subsequently, we will highlight concepts surrounding media literacy and how to identify and recognize polarizing and/or radical narratives. Building upon these key concepts, you will be equipped with tangible ways in which you can construct effective and collaborative counter narratives through targeted messaging and dissemination that can be utilized with, and partnered on, between civil society, faith actors and institutions, and policymakers.

    Sessions in Module 2

    Session 1: Identifying Hate Speech, Disinformation and Radical Behavior Online 

    Session 2: Practical Applications to Construct Effective and Collaborative Counter Narratives to Prevent and Counter Radicalization Rhetoric 

    Session 3: Online Safety and Risk Mitigation

    Amount of Time Anticipated for Module: 3.5 hours

     PAVE has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Grant Agreement No. 870769.

    PAVE Consortium

    PAVE Publications

    Published by the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. April 2023.

    This publication is part of WP7 of the PAVE project, led by Finn Church Aid (FCA) / the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers.

    Authors: Jessica Roland and Sarah Tyler

    Design: Triss Yap, Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers

    Design: Triss Yap, Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers

    A special thanks to those who helped to refine and support the development of this training module, including: Milla Perukangas, Ardit Orana, Athina Tzemprin, Kassem Kassir, Samiha Hamdi, Fabian Wichmann,  and Sadat Topanica, Ahmed Windi, Emina Frljak, Jovana Gjekanovikj, and Nancy Yammout. 

    The authors are solely responsible for its content, it does not represent the opinion of the European Commission and the Commission is not responsible for any use that might be made of data appearing therein.

    To cite: The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers. ‘Training Module 4: How to Recognize and Address Online Forms of Recruitment, Propaganda and Incitement to Violence.’ 2023. PAVE Project Publications.

    • Session 1: Objectives and Expected Results

      Objective: The first session will review key concepts and terms on how online platforms can be utilized to recruit and radicalize individuals and groups to share propaganda and incite violence, directed specifically towards youth, policymakers, civil society and religious actors and institutions. 

      Expected Results: The expected results of this first session will be that participants have an introductory understanding on why extremists utilize online platforms in a strategic nature to disseminate narratives promoting radicalization and understand some of the vulnerability and resilience factors of women, youth, marginalized groups and religious actors.  

      Amount of Time Anticipated for Session 1: 1.5 hours

      Agenda for Session 1

      • How Does the Internet Support and Create Opportunities for Extremist Narratives and Radicalization?
      • Digital Recruitment in Today's Society
      • What Tactics Do Violent Extremists Use to Radicalize Individuals?
      • Who Do Violent Extremists Target in Radicalization and Recruitment Online?
      • How and Why Do Youth Become Key Targets for Radicalization and Recruitment?
      • Gendered Lens: How and Why Do Women Become Key Targets for Radicalization and Recruitment?
      • How Does Religion Influence Online Recruitment and Radicalization?

      • What About Policymakers? How do They Support Radicalization and Resilience Factors?

      • How Does the Internet Support and Create Opportunities for Extremist Narratives and Radicalization?

        Hear from Ardit Orana, a Research Fellow at Kosovar Centre for Security Studies on how the internet supports extremist narratives and radicalization. 

        Source: PAVE Project. ‘’Ardit Orana: How the Internet Supports Extremist Narratives and Radicalization.’’ 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Be-zR-nXPY.

        We live in a digital world and are more globally integrated and connected on the internet more than ever before, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the internet provides many opportunities for social connection, learning and entertainment, it has also become a strategic entry point for adversary actors. The internet has enhanced the capability for extremists to communicate and collaborate amongst themselves, as well as to maliciously engage with external audiences for recruitment and/or radicalization processes.  

        For instance, the PAVE project research identified that while traditional media remains influential in terms of shaping opinion in the Balkans, online channels present a more prominent mechanism for the dissemination of information and community mobilization on a particular issue, including radicalization related. 

        A large percentage of people in the Western Balkans heavily rely on social media as their primary source of information.  For example, in Kosovo, as of 2021, there are an estimated 1.7 million internet users and 1.1 million active social media users in a country with an estimated 1.9 million people. The significantly high number of social media users demonstrates that a majority of the country hold a degree of dependence on online channels for accessibility and delivery of information as well as interconnectedness amongst community members.

        Photo Source: Harrington, Woody. ‘’Jihadists and right-wing extremists use remarkably similar social media strategies.’’ New York Times. November, 24, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/facebook-twitter-terrorism-extremism.html

        What is online recruitment? 

        Extremist groups actively try to get new members to join their causes. One of the ways they do this is online. Most extremist groups have their own websites, and they and their supporters have profiles on different social media sites. They use these platforms to connect with susceptible online users, share propaganda and ultimately build trust or a ‘friendship’ with people who seem to display interest in what they are thinking, doing and saying. Newcomers might become friends with several different extremists online. (Propaganda is the systemic dissemination of information, especially in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political/social cause or point of view.)

        Evidence has confirmed that the internet plays a role in the radicalization process of violent extremists and terrorists. They are able to reach audiences globally immediately, while also tailoring their messages to align with the desires and interests of different target audiences at all levels of society. Meaning, extremists are able to develop influential content for a mass audience, and still recruit individuals through targeted outreach.

         Here’s How:

        1. By the early 2000’s, all major terrorists' organizations had a website or online presence. The internet is ideal for extremists: it's easy access, difficult for private companies and government to regulate, allows for anonymity of communication, inexpensive and can even shape coverage in traditional mass media (which uses the internet for stories).
        2. Due to the number of global users, the internet creates more opportunities for extremists to quickly interact with users without being in the same physical location, thus being able to accelerate the process of radicalization. 
        3. The internet acts as an ‘echo chamber,’ meaning it can provide a space for people to interact with like-minded people and to reaffirm their beliefs, regardless of the accuracy of the belief.

        Think of it as a snowball - as more and more people view and share these posts; people may come to agree with the content. They will also talk about the content with like-minded individuals online - and even with their friends in-person. This creates a sense of community. What they may not realize is that these extremists are not their friends, rather, they are trying to take advantage to further advance their extremist goals. Because of so many like-minded individuals, people may forget why extremism and terrorism are wrong and believe that their new friends have legitimate viewpoints. Overtime, people may come to believe that they have no choice but to use or advocate for violence. 

      • Digital Recruitment in Today's Society

        The internet offers terrorists and extremists the same opportunity and capability that it does for the rest of society: to communicate, collaborate and convince. There are already significant quantities of radical materials available online, especially on popular social media channels, and this volume is growing daily. For instance, the table below shows results from a 2013 Google search of critical keywords related to terrorism and radicalization.  

        Photo Source: von Behr, I. (2013) radicalization in the digital era The use of the internet in 15 cases of terrorism and extremism. RAND Europe. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR400/RR453/RAND_RR453.pdf.

        With the advent of the internet, modern extremists can now self radicalize or find people with extremist ideologies  faster than ever before and more importantly, they now have a playbook to follow in observing previous attacks through online platforms. Since 2011, one third of white supremacist attackers were inspired by others conducting similar copycat attacks, professing admiration for them online. For instance, the Christchurch shooter followed a specific pattern, including a pre-planned online manifesto distribution strategy and a Facebook video livestream. In his manifesto, the attacker, Brandon Trenton, said he drew inspiration from similar attacks, especially Anders Breivik, a Norwegian RWE who killed 77 people, mostly youths who were participating in a summer camp in Utøya. The shooter explained in his manifesto he had been inspired by similar right-wing attacks in Norway (2011, 77 killed), Charleston, South Carolina (2015, 9 killed), and Quebec (2016, 6 killed). This has led to a growing fear of copycat attacks given the simplicity of the attacks these extremists use and the high level of social media content related to the motivations at attack itself.


        With more than 1 billion users, Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites. Facebook provides violent extremists with a vast recruiting ground. Extremists take advantage of the fact that parents and law enforcement often are not aware of the dangers that could be present when a young person spends large amounts on Facebook or other social networking sites. Extremist individuals and organizations use this viewing potential to create lines of communication, enabling them to find, recruit, groom, and communicate with young people worldwide. This aids extremist groups intent on attacking Western countries and their interests in creating an international network of followers that can be radicalized to violence. 

        Facebook groups and pages expressing support for violent extremists and terrorist organizations allow anyone to read information, view videos and other propaganda, comment on wall posts or write their own posts, and click on links to content hosted on other sites. These pages effectively bring propaganda to a wider audience and serve as a gateway to other extremist websites where more radical content is available. In many instances, posts include historical and factual data that is skewed or changed to foster support or empathy to the cause and link to websites with additional information.  In addition, extremists also post tips and guidance about operational and tactical information, gathering counterintelligence, and coordinating attacks. 

        A 2016 internal Facebook study found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools” and that most of the activity came from the platform’s “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms.

        Photo Source: ‘White Supremacists are Thriving on Facebook.’ Tech Transparency Project. https://www.techtransparencyproject.org/sites/default/files/Facebook-White-Supremacy-Report.pdf.


        According to the latest YouTube statistics, the video-sharing platform has 2.6 billion users worldwide as of 2022. It’s ranked as the second-most popular social network, and the only platform that has more active users than YouTube is Facebook. These 2.6 billion users are defined as viewers who log into the site at least once per month.

        Violent extremists of all persuasions upload videos that include depictions of perceived affronts committed by enemies, speeches and statements of radical leaders, and other videos promoting violence and uprisings. Videos can also explain extremist ideologies and justify violent actions and responses. These videos often include graphics and edits that make them appear similar to traditional newscasts, making it difficult for viewers to realize that these are segments based on propaganda and skewed information. Extremists also upload videos that provide moral support and encourage motivated viewers to launch attacks of their own. Violent extremist groups have even created cartoons that are intended to appeal to youth.

        From June to December 2017, YouTube removed over 150,000 videos for violent extremism, with 98 percent of these flagged by machine-learning algorithms. Nearly 70% were taken down within eight hours of upload. 


        Micro-blogging sites like Twitter present more advantages for extremist groups because traceability of the identity and the source of the tweets are harder to achieve, thus increasing the communication potential for recruiters. Twitter provides violent extremists with an international recruiting ground. Radical recruiters contact users who have re-tweeted their posts and left favorable comments on numerous tweets that express a desire to become involved in the cause. Many extremist organizations use Twitter to issue statements and press releases, disseminate propaganda, and provide justification or encouragement for attacks. Whether their narrative suggests that the West is at war with Islam, the government is overstepping its bounds, or that certain religions or races are inferior, groups use Twitter to broadcast their ideology and propaganda to a large audience. This promotion can also take the form of directly criticizing opposing sources and information on other Twitter accounts. These groups can also post links to other websites and pages with radical content.

        In 2018, Twitter announced that over 1.2 million accounts were suspended for terrorist content.

        Video Games

        Video games can be placed in a similar category as social media because they increasingly have their own forums, chat rooms and microblogging tools.  Even as video games are becoming ubiquitous in modern society, the controls around content have become less clear. Video games provide an unmonitored environment where extremists, from the Islamic State to neo-Nazis, can contact and groom potential recruits from around the world. The content of modern video games also generates concerns. One game in particular, Counter-Strike, allows players to simulate terrorists trying to perpetrate a terrorist attack. Dubbed the “Gaming Jihad,” terrorist organizations have exploited violent multi-player first-person shooter games and violent imagery to attract young recruits. In 2014, the Islamic State even developed a propaganda film designed to look like the popular video games Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto to appeal to young gamers by glorifying and fantasizing video game violence.

        This phenomenon has become a global threat in recent years as terrorists have been able to reach larger audiences through such methods, which may have contributed to an observed increase in far-right political terrorism worldwide.

        In relation, Twitch, is an international online video game streaming service where individuals are allowed to live stream audio and video of them playing video games. Although meant to share gaming experiences with others, some individuals utilized Twitch to spread their polarizing and violent political beliefs about controversial issues. Larger terrorist groups like ISIS are not the only actors to increase their focus on video games and other online platforms. Smaller, less sophisticated terrorist organizations have been inspired by ISIS’s recruitment strategies and have begun utilizing these techniques as well.

        Photo Source: Dino, Daniel, 2019. “E-Recruits: How Gaming is Helping Terrorist Groups Radicalize and Recruit a Generation of Online Gamers.” Centric. https://www.concentric.io/blog/e-recruits-how-gaming-is-helping-terrorist-groups-radicalize-and-recruit-a-generation-of-online-gamers.

        Artificial Intelligence 

        Terrorist groups are beginning to explore the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their online radicalization and recruitment strategies.  AI can be extremely dangerous if used with malicious intent. With a proven track record in the world of cybercrime, it is a powerful tool that could conceivably be employed to further or facilitate recruitment, terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism. One of the most common uses of AI is through ‘deep fakes.' Deep fakes use artificial intelligence, or AI, to modify videos and images and replace a person’s likeness with that of another, creating nearly imperceptible fakes.

        As explained by the United Nations Office on Counter-Terrorism, ‘deep fakes and the technology behind them can be a powerful weapon in today’s disinformation wars. Moreover, coupled with the reach and speed of the Internet, social media and messaging applications, deep fakes can quickly reach millions of people in an extremely short period of time. In this regard, deepfakes present considerable potential for a range of malicious and criminal purposes which include: destroying the image and credibility of an individual; harassing or humiliating individuals online, including through the use of sexual deepfakes; perpetrating blackmail, extortion and fraud; disrupting financial markets; and stoking social unrest and political polarization.

        Considering the adverse effects of deepfakes, it is conceivable that terrorist groups or individuals can seek to leverage the technology behind deepfakes to run disinformation campaigns on social media to manipulate public opinion or undermine people’s confidence in state institutions.

        Such technology could also be used as an effective instrument for propaganda, radicalization or as a call for action. For instance, this could be achieved through the creation of “deepfaked” content by extremists in which a targeted political figure makes offensive remarks against a specific community in an effort to increase outrage within it and increase the number of sympathizers.

      • What Tactics Do Violent Extremists Use to Radicalize Individuals?

        Photo Source: Cvetkovska, S. (2 November 2021). Trump and COVID-19 Fuel North Macedonia’s Clickbait Boom.  Resonate Voices Initiative. https://resonantvoices.info/trump-and-covid-19-fuel-north-macedonias-clickbait-boom/.

        One of the primary uses of the Internet by terrorists is for the dissemination of propaganda. Propaganda is the systemic dissemination of information, especially in a biased or misleading way, in order to promote a political/social cause or point of view. The promotion of violence is a common theme in terrorism-related propaganda, and it generally takes the form of multimedia communications providing ideological or practical instruction, explanations, justifications or promotion of terrorist activities. These may include virtual messages, presentations, magazines, treatises, audio and video files and video games developed by terrorist organizations or sympathizers.  Internet propaganda may also include content such as video footage of violent acts of terrorism or video games developed by terrorist organizations that simulate acts of terrorism and encourage the user to engage in role-play, by acting the part of a virtual terrorist. 

        Other objectives of terrorist propaganda may include the use of psychological manipulation to undermine an individual’s belief in certain collective social values, or to propagate a sense of heightened anxiety, fear or panic in a population or subset of the population. This may be achieved through the dissemination of disinformation, rumors, threats of violence or images relating to provocative acts of violence. The intended audience may include direct viewers of content, as well as those affected by potential publicity generated by such material.

        Extremists use context-specific propaganda to reach and influence audiences. It is more effective when:

        • Displayed in a local language. This is especially relevant for members of the diaspora feel comfortable with, i.e., German or English.
        • Creates a role model that recruits can identify with. ISIS created role models for women, which did not exist before. 
        • Sharing images or rhetoric with a negative connotation associated towards a particular group.  Often in Europe, there is the spread of different negative images from Islam and Muslims. 
        • Online content dissemination of violence abuse amongst teenagers and young adults that encourage change to cultural and social norms.
        • Daily interaction with violence in video games, movies, comics, etc. creates an essence of violence normality. 
        • Insights fear of the ‘other.’

        Let's look at an example: 

        Photo Source: Al Hayat Media Center

        The ISIS recruitment video titled “No Life Without Jihad,” was released by the Al Hayat Media Center, which is an ISIS-affiliated group focused on recruiting Muslims in western countries.  

        The 13-minute video features a British and Australian man — sitting next to other alleged ISIS members — who identifies himself as Brother Abu Muthanna al Yemeni extolling the virtues of jihad. He encourages foreign Muslims “to answer the call of Allah and his messenger when he calls you to what gives you life…what he says gives you life is jihad.”

        Let's look at what tactics were used in creating this video:

        • Creates a role model that recruits can identify with, as well as shares positive aspects to joining the group: The video encourages ‘loyal’ followers to come to the Middle East to ‘reconquer Muslim land’ and allows viewers to hear and see first-hand the ‘glamorization’ of life by those have been actively engaged in the extremist organization. The video also features foreign fighters from Western nations who have joined the group. 
        • The “message to the brothers who have stayed behind” is a strong, sustained, and emotional appeal to Western Muslims to join ISIS immediately, and seeks to remove every possible excuse, such as work, family, comfort, for not going. The video connects the need for immediate sacrifice for the sake of suffering Muslims in Syria to a long-awaited millenarian hope. 
        • Displayed in a local language: The video was shared on accounts in German and French - allowing the video to be understood by, and targeted to, a larger audience. 

        Another tactic used by violent extremists is through spreading online hate speech. Hate speech covers many forms of expressions which advocate, incite, promote or justify hatred, violence and discrimination against a person or group of persons for a variety of reasons. As more and more people have moved online, experts say, individuals inclined toward racism, misogyny, or homophobia have found niches that can reinforce their views and goad them to violence. Social media platforms also offer violent actors the opportunity to publicize their acts. Hate speech on the internet is not a new phenomenon, but rather the digitalization of cultural backlash politics against processes of cultural change and progress.

        Hate speech can also be derived from far-right groups. For instance, created in Britain in 2017 as an alternative to YouTube, BitChute has become notorious for videos promoting racism, hate and Holocaust-denial. In the Summer of 2020, twenty of the most popular videos on the platform were a mix of extreme racist propaganda and harmful disinformation, mostly originating from QAnon and anti-vaxxer groups. The site is used throughout the Western Balkans, with individuals sharing content from BitChute, including translated videos that claim the COVID-19 pandemic is fake and the vaccines dangerous, have also taken part in protests against COVID-19 restrictions imposed by authorities in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkan region. In Serbia and Croatia, they have joined protests against migrants and refugees and LGBTQ rights. 

        Extremist groups are using conspiracy theories and other content on far-right channels as a tool to recruit followers and spread radical agendas, abusing the insecurity, fear, socioeconomic problems and mental health issues of vulnerable individuals.


        What are some examples of online hate speech inspiring acts of violence?

        • Extremist propaganda displays the war in Bosnia as an attack by the West on the Islamic world, thereby establishing a direct connection to Islamist ideology in the interpretation of the conflict. 
        • Online hate speech targets Iraqi journalists and activists leading to targeted threats directly inciting violence against them.

        Photo Source: Civil Media. “TikTok fight for inter-ethnic and political struggle.” 2020. https://civilmedia.mk/tik-tok-tepachka-za-meguetnichka-i-politichka-presmetka/.

        During the summer and fall of 2020, a new trend highlighting the region’s conflicts emerged in the Balkans. In these videos, a group of people walk along a street. A bully appears, harassing them. Suddenly, a friend emerges to fight off the bully. Different users attach different flags to the bully and to the savior. The flag reflects the user’s view of conflict and cooperation in the Balkans. In one video, the group consists of Kosovo and Macedonia, with Serbia as the bully and Albania the savior. In another combination, Albania is the bully and Serbia is the defender. The cathartic part of the video is accompanied by dramatic music, reinforcing the message.

        Have you noticed or seen any of the tactics described above? If so, how did you know? How did it make you feel?

      • Who Do Violent Extremists Target in Radicalization and Recruitment Online?

        Photo Source: MacDonald,Stuart. ‘’How Tech Companies are Trying to Disrupt Terrorist Social Media Activity.’’ June 26, 2018. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-tech-companies-are-trying-to-disrupt-terrorist-social-media-activity/.

        Extremist groups will engage with anyone they feel may be able to be susceptible to their messaging - ranging from youth to adults and everywhere in between.  From an outside perspective, it is easy for us to categorize anyone recruited online as ‘gullible’ or ‘naïve’, but this is simply not the case. In fact, many people who become influenced or radicalized by online propaganda did not seek it out—they were intentionally targeted and unaware of the radicalization agenda.  

        Radicalization is more widespread where conditions of inequality and political frustration prevail. It often takes root in people who sympathize with the plight of the oppressed and wish to show their solidarity. It also looks to capitalize on people’s vulnerabilities and insecurities and connect them with like-minded individuals to give them a sense of community and belonging within an online space.

        Humans intrinsically search for a sense of belonging. Social media sites allow for introverts and extroverts alike to communicate with others - whenever they like - and generally along topics of interest. A filter bubble can cause users to have significantly less contact with contradicting viewpoints, causing the user to become intellectually isolated and in a ‘bubble’ of their own beliefs and perceptions related to political and social ideologies. Personalized search results on Google and personalized news streams on Facebook are two perfect examples of this phenomenon.

        Let's look more at how extremists create a sense of belonging and capitalize on filter bubbles: Chat rooms offer a place for individuals to engage in networking and connectivity opportunities, often amongst people with similar ideas. This space reinforces interpersonal relationships and creates a sense of belonging. However, extremists have also been known to share information on these platforms, such as photos, videos, blogs, guides, etc. Additionally, these spaces are easy for group mobilization through exploiting collective identities or through relational and emotional bonds in order to achieve endorsement of extremist values.

        In Tunisia, PAVE research found many webpages claiming a ‘primary belonging,’ through a regional identity, such as Abnaou Al Janoub' (people of southern Tunisia). This claim represents a certain type of solidarity, which is more or less temporary, but can be revived at any time, following any incident, decision or simple event. 

        Source: DARE. ‘’How Important Are Online Spaces to Radicalization.’’ June, 2021. https://www.dare-h2020.org/uploads/1/2/1/7/12176018/rb_-_online_spaces_final_version.pdf.

        This method of engagement by extremists is through a method known as narrowcasting. 

        Narrowcasting aims messages at specific segments of the public defined by values, preferences, demographic attributes, or subscription. An online page, video, or chat’s name, images, appeals, and information are tailored to match the profile of a particular social group. In short, it is disseminating information to a smaller group rather than a wide audience.  

        For instance, in Lebanon, the PAVE project noted youth resorted mostly to online media and communication channels specifically in their search for reassurance and guidance. They believed that their new affiliation would provide them with a sense of belonging and identity given the void in collective belonging. 

        Watch this example of a young man interacting with an extremist via a video game:

        Source: Devon County Council. ‘’Safer Devon: Online Radicalization.’’ November 2, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHmOnCRAGvw&t=33s.

      • How and Why Do Youth Become Key Targets for Radicalization and Recruitment?

        Hear from Athina Tzemprin, Manager at Moonshot on how women and youth become key targets for online radicalization and recruitment.

        Source: PAVE Project. ‘’Athina Tzemprin: Women and Youth as Targets for Online Radicalization and Recruitment.’’ 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ll92gpi9eI.

        Youth are generalized as most involved and active within violent extremist groups, but research and implementation experience have shown that only a small portion of young people who are vulnerable to violent extremism actually become violent. However, as youth are often key users of the internet and broadly susceptible to propaganda, the internet, therefore, is an effective mechanism for youth radicalization and recruitment. The PAVE research highlighted “the majority of youth in Kosovo, prior to going to Syria, had developed the majority of their radical ties through social media, not traditional media.”

        Around the world, youth are becoming radicalized and recruited by extremist organizations. In 2015 alone, the United Nations verified 274 cases of children having been recruited by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in the Syrian Arab Republic. The United Nations verified the existence of centers in rural Aleppo, Dayr al-Zawr and rural Raqqah that provided military training to at least 124 boys between 10 and 15 years of age. Verification of the use of children as foreign fighters has increased significantly, with 18 cases involving children as young as 7 years of age. The use of children as child executioners was reported and appeared in video footage. In Iraq, in two incidents in June and September 2015, more than 1,000 children were reportedly abducted by ISIL from Mosul district. These figures are likely to be significant underestimates because of the limited opportunities to gain access and monitor violations against children.


        One tactic extremists use to engage and recruit youth is through ‘grooming.’ Grooming is when someone builds a relationship, trust and emotional connection with a child or young person so they can manipulate, exploit and abuse them. While the drivers and objectives are different, the actual process of grooming is broadly similar to radicalization, with the exploitation of a person’s vulnerability usually being the critical factor. Those who are targeted are often offered something ideological, such as an eternal spiritual reward, or sometimes something physical, such as an economic incentive, that will make them 'feel better' about themselves or their situation. People who groom and radicalize also use the anonymity of the web as a layer of protection to avoid detection. The added ability to encrypt communication can make law enforcement extremely difficult. A predator may use the internet to offer support, friendship and belonging are all used to gain influence and control, so it’s important to be alert. Despite the best efforts of social media providers and platforms, the sheer volume of web traffic means that questionable content can be uploaded and distributed for a considerable length of time. 

        It’s critical to point out that extremists use lots of different channels to try to connect with someone who they think could be vulnerable and persuadable. They will look at posts, likes and shares and social media profiles and friend lists to identify people to target. The ways young people are recruited however, vary widely across contexts, gender, and other identity factors; often with extremists capitalizing on feelings of insecurity, discrimination, or social isolation. 

        Online Recruitment of Girls and Young Women

        For example, online recruitment of girls and young women is proportionately more prevalent than their male counterparts as they often face restrictions in public spaces due to societal gender norms.  Factors contributing to young women joining extremist organizations include: rejection of Western feminism; online contact with recruiters who offer marriage and adventure; peer or family influence; adherence to the ideology and politics; naivety and romantic optimism; and the chance to be part of something new, exciting and illicit. 

        Extremist groups and pages on social media that are specifically targeted at young women tend to be very colorful, often including internet-famous cat and dog videos to generate attention. 

        For young men, extremist groups may play off of their desire to ' belong.’ For instance, this quest for significance gets personal when ISIS directly challenges a male’s masculinity and shames him to join their cause or commit attacks in the West. It gets especially personal when one considers the messengers along with the message. 

        For example, one of ISIS’ latest propaganda videos features a French-language a cappella chant containing footage of young children dressed in military fatigues, fully armed, and marching in bombed out city streets. The video was accompanied by lyrics declaring, “Our warriors are everywhere ready to sacrifice themselves, beware our orphans are growing.” In another video, potential recruits are encouraged to join up and fight alongside ISIS militants while a picture of a young boy holding an assault rifle is shown as the words “What’s your excuse?” flash across the screen. ISIS’ use of child soldiers in their propaganda videos plays on the discomfort many men experience at the thought of a child being more empowered than themselves to avenge Muslims’ perceived humiliation.

         Click the link to watch the video: https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/isis-threat/video-isis-child-jihadists-sing-in-french-your-blood-will-flow-452968 


        Source: The Jerusalem Post. ‘’ISIS child jihadists sing in French - 'Your blood will flow.’’ May 3, 2016. https://www.jpost.com/middle-east/isis-threat/video-isis-child-jihadists-sing-in-french-your-blood-will-flow-452968.

        Female ISIS supporters also use narratives of shame and emasculation to reach out to and recruit impressionable “fence sitters” who have not yet taken decisive action. For instance, a 2015 tweet by a user named @UsofNuh declared, “There are women who are already here before you and look, they are already doing more than you have for the Islamic State.”


        Violent extremists are supplementing their traditional messaging—which can rely heavily on lengthy, academic-style recitations and philosophical arguments—with memes that are faster and easier to consume. Such content allows quick sharing of vast amounts of information with like-minded end users and can normalize or lessen the gravity of violent extremist narratives. It is important for first responders to understand how violent extremist narratives are being spread using memes, while also respecting constitutionally protected rights and appreciating that the memes discussed in this paper (or others like them) may be shared by those who are not connected to violent extremism.