Extremists are targeting young people during the pandemic – so what can you do to tackle this in the classroom?

During the pandemic, local authorities have seen a significant decline in Prevent referrals, raising concerns about the welfare of vulnerable children and young people who require support.

As schools return it is important that settings are extra-vigilant to radicalisation concerns, particularly as children and young people may have been exposed to disinformation, misinformation and conspiracy theories, sometimes called ‘fake news’, due to extremists exploiting COVID-19 to spread hateful narratives and increase division.

This blog article explains the increased radicalisation risks related to COVID-19, and suggested actions that can be taken to protect students from radicalisation. Find the full COVID-19 Prevent guidance here.

 

What are the radicalisation risks related to the impact of COVID-19?

There are three main radicalisation risks for young people during this pandemic:

  • Exposed to misleading and hateful content: Young people may have been exposed to fake stories or conspiracy theories about COVID-19, which attribute blame to minority groups.
  • Engaged with extremist individuals: Young people may have become exposed to, or engaged with, extremist organisations or individuals, especially online.
  • Increased vulnerability to radicalisation: COVID-19 may have increased vulnerability to radicalisation as children and young people may feel isolated, anxious, frustrated and angry. This could increase the resonance of intolerant messaging and the appeal of extremist groups or individuals offering explanations for the crisis.

 

What have been the extremist themes during the pandemic?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, false and misleading narratives about the virus have been spread, particularly online, often to place blame on ‘out-groups’ and minorities. This can further incite hatred, justify violence and divide communities. While some of this occurs on popular social media platforms, it can also be found on lesser known, unregulated platforms. These sites can include easily available extreme and conspiratorial content.

The Commission for Countering-Extremism (CCE) have highlighted numerous examples of prominent extremist narratives, for example – conspiracies blaming the Jewish community for spreading the virus or suggesting COVID-19 is a ‘Jewish plot’, claims that British Muslims have flouted social distancing rules and spread COVID-19 and narratives promoting Anti-Chinese hatred.

A full list of emerging extremist narratives can be found in our COVID-19 Prevent guidance.

 

What actions can teachers/ school leaders take to prevent children and young people being radicalised during this time?

There are several measures that schools can put in place to help assess the increased radicalisation risk to students:

1. Review your Prevent risk assessment, considering the impact of COVID-19, as well as any local changes in risk or community tensions.

2. Ensure staff are familiar with the issues raised in our guidance to increase their confidence in recognising concerns.

3. Ensure both staff and students are clear on the reporting procedures to raise concerns.

4. During the pandemic, children and young people may have experienced the absence of trusted adults and positive role models. As such, extremist narratives, and individuals offering an apparent explanation for the pandemic, may have had an increased appeal, and may have gone unchallenged. Dedicate time to rebuilding these valuable relationships and have ‘safe space’ discussions with students.

5. Review curriculum opportunities for critical thinking, online safety, and media literacy. Further support and guidance can be found below.

6. Encourage staff to adopt active listening approaches and to seek advice if they are concerned about a child or young person.

 

How can you support the young people you work with?

The Government has provided advice on how to keep young people safe online during the COVID-19 pandemic. Organisations such as the NSPCC and the UK Safer Internet Centre offer information and guidance on how to use different social media platforms safely.

Here is a list of useful resources that can help students identify misleading content:

The SHARE Checklist – a Government website, offering five easy steps to follow to identify whether information might be false.

The BBC – The BBC offers a range of resources on understanding and responding to fake news. These include:

  • BBC Real News – videos and lesson plans related to digital literacy
  • BBC iReporter game – an interactive game that puts students in the shoes of a journalist, tasking them with working out what is real and accurate, whilst avoiding fake and false information.

National Literacy Trust – offer fake news and critical literacy resources, including lesson plans for different subject areas.

The News Literacy Project – offers resources to support pupils to understand what to trust in the digital age.

ShoutOut UK – provides free weekly resources on online harms, conspiracy theories, how to spot fake news, and deal with online ‘trolls’.

Civic Online Reasoning: How to evaluate online information – classroom ready materials and complete curriculum on media literacy.

UN: Pause Before Sharing – The UN has launched a campaign to help stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation.

 

Find the latest COVID-19 Prevent guidance here.

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