Extremists use social media to spread hateful narratives and propaganda - state actors, NGOs, and young activists are trying to fight this by telling counter-narratives. But how effective is this? | Photo: PRIF

Counter-narratives – curse or blessing?

Taking stock of the increased spread of extremist narratives – especially in social media – the search for appropriate counter-measures intensifies. Consequently, the formulation and dissemination of so-called counter-narratives is often discussed as one possible approach to weaken extremist influence. While there are good reasons in favor of counter-narratives, they also come with risks and uncertainties. This article outlines essential pros and cons for their use in social media and provides insights into the current state of research on the effects of counter-narratives. Finally, it makes a proposal for a balanced approach: Counter-narratives may not be the only cure for extremism, but can serve as an effective tool for prevention and de-radicalization.

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It is not easy to tell where offline ends and online begins
It is not easy to tell where offline ends and online begins | Photo: widenka | Free use

The Amalgamation of Virtuality and Reality in Radicalisation Processes

Virtuality has long since become an integral part of the world we live in today. It is thus not surprising that the virtual world is also used by those already radicalised and those who are in the midst of a radicalisation process. Accordingly, recent years have seen an increase in research that is particularly interested in the online component of radicalisation processes. Although the majority of researchers agree that there is no pure online radicalisation and that real-world contacts are always an important part of the process, research often continues to be one-sided. This posts calls for a change of focus by considering both spheres as equal components to the process and by examining their interactions. Findings from online case studies stemming from social media profiles of Salafist and right-wing individuals illustrate the amalgamation of online and offline radicalisation.

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Das Foto zeigt die Webseite "Coronavirus - a soldier from Allah" auf einem Smartphone.
Extremists of all stripes reinterpret the Coronavirus pandemic to serve their ideologies. | Photo: PRIF

The Coronavirus as a Means to an End: Extremist Reinterpretations of the Pandemic

Various aspects of society and everyday life have become affected by the clampdown on the Coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions enforced to prevent it from spreading. While the spread of COVID-19 continues to be fought and researched under extreme pressure, many uncertainties remain regarding its origin and the social, political and economic consequences. These uncertainties are easily exploited by extremists such as right-wing and Islamist extremists. The spread of the Coronavirus is thus accompanied by the propagation of extremists’ discourses. Within a short period of time, they reach thousands of people – not only but especially via social media. 

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Das salafistisch-dschihadistisches Online-Magazin „Kybernetiq“
Das salafistisch-dschihadistische Online-Magazin „Kybernetiq“ | Quelle: eigene Darstellung

Online- oder Offline-Radikalisierung – oder doch ein Mix?

Immer häufiger ist bei ExtremistInnen die Rede von einer „Online-Radikalisierung“: Das Internet wird immer wieder als wichtiger Faktor in Radikalisierungsprozessen genannt. Dennoch ist über die Interaktion zwischen virtueller und realer Welt und die Wirkung von Online-Kommunikation in Radikalisierungsprozessen wenig bekannt. Dieser Beitrag beleuchtet kurz wesentliche Erkenntnisse hierzu und stellt auf Basis erster Erkenntnisse aus unserer Forschung drei Thesen zum Stellenwert von Online- und Offline-Faktoren in Radikalisierungsprozessen auf.

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