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Save the Children: Extremist groups recruiting youth via social media, gaming

Radical movements are actively attracting young people in Finland online, says Pelastakaa Lapset, the Finnish branch of Save the Children.

Extremist movements often have specific action plans that seek to recruit youngsters through a variety of methods and tactics (manipulated file photo of teenagers hanging out at a shopping mall). Image: Tanja Heino / Yle

Extremist movements are actively seeking to recruit young people in Finland online, according to a report published on Wednesday by Pelastakaa Lapset, the Finnish branch of the global NGO Save the Children.

The study, part of the organisation's state-funded RadicalWeb project, indicates that extremist groups use many means to try to attract young people.

These include social media, online messaging, video game platforms, dark network forums and meetings. According to the report, such movements aim to boost their appeal through means such as humour, conspiracy theories and non-sexual grooming.

Extremist movements often have specific action plans that seek to recruit youngsters through a variety of methods and tactics. Extreme thinking is especially evident in online communication and social media, but recruitment also takes place to some extent through direct contacts, for example through a circle of friends or hobbies.

However, each radicalisation process is unique, according to RadicalWeb project manager Annukka Kurki.

"Young people are a good target for propaganda by extremists and terrorist groups, as they are vulnerable to extremism and other harmful effects due to their sensitive stage of development. Extreme movements are very innovative in their recruitment," Kurki said in a statement on Wednesday.

Supo: Violent radicalisation on the rise

According to the Finnish Security and Intelligence Service (Supo), the threat of violent radicalisation is minimal in Finland compared to many other countries. However, violent radicalisation and related violent activity have also increased in Finland in recent years, and this is reflected in crime statistics, Pelastakaa Lapset notes in its report.

Youth radicalisation can be difficult to identify and distinguish from other behaviour associated with their age or difficult life situations. Triggering risk factors for the development of extremism can include exclusion, exposure to one-sided views, and disappointment with democracy and political activity.

According to the organisation, factors that can protect young people include social coping skills, autonomy, family support, a sense of inclusion, religious awareness and the strengthening of democratic citizenship.

These may increase a young person's capacity for mental recovery and coping. Parents and professionals working with young people have an important role to play here, the NGO says.

"By strengthening social relations, the experience of inclusion and a sense of belonging, young people can be protected from radicalisation, says Veera Tuomala, project designer at RadicalWeb.

Warning signs

Possible warning signals of youthful radicalisation may include changes in behaviour, opinions or dress, as well as opposing social order and following propaganda online, according to Save the Children.

A parent, guardian or other adult who notices such signs should find out which platforms the young person is frequenting online and help them to identify hate speech. They may also suggest how to influence decision-making through peaceful means.

Providing time and support can be crucial to a young person's life, the organisation says.

"Make sure the conversation is as calm and neutral as possible. An open, appreciative, understanding, compassionate and constructive dialogue is key. In contrast, questioning, belittling, condemning, overreacting, and blaming should be avoided," the report says.

The report is based on information gathered from research and reports, online data collection by Save the Children Finland and expert interviews. The RadicalWeb project is funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.