Thursday, June 23, 2016

Radicalized over the phone, on a donkey, or on FoxNews - and nobody will ever know

From our The Bad Craftsman Blames the Tools series.

Next time you read that someone was "radicalized on the Internet", remind yourself that it is virtually guaranteed that some human was radicalized on the phone at some point in time.

For example, when talking to a friend and becoming a witness of jackbooted government thugs breaking down a door at 5 AM,  or hearing shots between criminal gangs followed by pleading of that wounded friend.

The issue is: we may never know that an event like this was the starting point, or one of several, which set the friend on a journey towards becoming a hard line ("radical") anti-government activist or a just as radical law and order advocate.

Blaming the internet for all or part of the radicalization of Islamist inspired violence has become so pervasive, it can only be called a reflex. The same prominence is not generally attributed to the process that leads to one or more "radical right" shootings or stabbings. Even if it were, there are things we know about how the internet helps get radicalized and things we don't know about the process.

Simply be aware that statements like the following tweet are not proven:
Jun 21
52. It's truly 1 without easy answers in age when the internet has greatly reduced the radicalization time. Ppl can go from 0 to 100 in wks

Radicalization has been studied and continues to be investigated by researchers of many specialties, including psychology, sociology, religious studies, and criminology. Efforts based on this research have given rise to deradicalization programs, and there even is a Journal for Deradicalization.

The edition we link to here discusses the radicalization of eight German former right wing activists. The blogster is confident that the same basic mechanisms apply for radicalization in an Islamist context as far as the role of the internet is concerned.

The paper's abstract has this to say: As a venue for information exchange, ideological development and training, the individual radicalization  process  was  characteristically  shape d  or  even  made  possible  through the Internet. This paper also shows the high value of qualitative research regarding the topic in contrast to usually employed quantitative analysis of webpage content.  

The paper concludes: Still the core aspect of the research question of this paper remains unexplained: how exactly does the Internet and elements connected to it influence individual radicalization processes.

These statements frame the status of research.

The fact that the internet is vast and hard to understand even for experts make for easy fearmongering, and the easy traceability of most internet use combine in toxic calls for ever more surveillance of perfectly innocent users in the hope of catching "the bad guys".

Even more importantly, being able to show that a suspect visited a radical website or a messaging channel is claimed to be proof of "radicalization on the internet", and the public tends to ignore that an individual may have had mental health issues, or may have been radicalized much earlier in more personal, less attention grabbing, less easily provable ways.

This McClatchy story on the long history of previous troubles of the Orlando shooter is a case in point and was really the first article that brought the troubling earlier years.

Blaming the internet is much more fashionable than, say, blaming the use of donkeys as a means of transport to a shooting or a bank robbery.

And accusing FoxNews, or another strange TV channel, of contributing to radicalization will not elicit the same reactions as blaming the internet. At the end of the day, focus on the technology only takes attention away from root causes that can be obscure or unverifiable, or simply impossible to solve, such as war and exploitation.

Of course, in order to successfully prosecute a suspect in court, some degree of proof of intent and/or actions is necessary. And since the internet is the main mode of communication and dissemination of information, it will continue to take center stage.

But attributing radicalization to it almost certainly invites bad policies that will hurt everyone.
The simple fact of the matter is: You can show the exact same internet or non-internet content - text, images, video - to two different people, and you do not get a predictable radicalization result.

You can try to recruit two people and one may bite, the other won't. Yet, the one who bites may turn out harmless and victimized by a sting while the other may turn into a headline making killer.

So, please stop blaming the internet.

No comments:

Post a Comment