ISIS videos 'tailored to appeal to youth'

ISIS videos 'tailored to appeal to youth'

The grisly video clips put out by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have shocked many, but they have also helped to radicalise a number of young people across the world, including here.

Yesterday, the detention of a 19-year-old Singapore student, radicalised after he started viewing terrorist propaganda online, once again drew attention to the question of why is it that some young individuals are attracted to such ideas.

In recent months, ISIS' gory footage has included the beheading of two Japanese hostages as well as a Jordanian pilot who was burned alive.

While the incidents drew widespread condemnation, there has nonetheless been a growing number of teens detected and detained for wanting to join ISIS in Syria and for plotting attacks elsewhere.

Academics and experts say the likely reasons behind the trend include a lack of maturity and the feeling of being disconnected from society, coupled with the easy availability and seductive quality of extremist material online.

"ISIS recruitment videos, like MTV videos, are made to look very attractive. Online content can be tailored to be very appealing to young people," said consultant psychiatrist Adrian Wang.

Dr Wang said teens who believe that they are not supported by society or who are disconnected from their communities and families can also find extremist ideology appealing as it gives them an opportunity to make a statement for themselves.

Subscribing to such ideology can also be a show of strength and a way for youth to push back against the society that they believe has left them out, he added.

Psychiatrist Brian Yeo noted that teens are also likely to find acceptance, solace and even guidance from radical groups online.

Such behaviour, he added, was similar to that of deviant groups, and was not limited to those claiming to be religiously right.

Because so much of ISIS' recruitment activity takes place online, it is easier for deceptive messages to be portrayed as the truth, as it is harder to verify what is true and what is not.

Said Dr Shashi Jayakumar, head of the Centre of Excellence for National Security at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS): "It is much easier to radicalise oneself through social media, rather than through a book or newspaper."

Some experts think that the problem may worsen.

Dr Yeo said that it is important that parents speak to their children about contentious issues, instead of rejecting them even when their opinions differ.

Parents can also let technology work to their advantage and stay ahead with online security solutions, said Mr Tan Yuh Woei, a senior director at ASEAN Symantec. One option is to use an Internet filter, which can limit access to certain sites and even monitor chats or instant messages.

But the nature of the Internet also means that online extremism may be hard to kill.

According to a BBC report in March, there are at least 46,000 Twitter accounts operating on behalf of ISIS. Youth are their most likely targets.

Said Dr Kumar Ramakrishna, head of policy studies at RSIS: "Unfortunately, this trend will likely increase largely because we have yet to effectively counter ISIS ideology."

osadaj@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 28, 2015.
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