Young people are in the process of developing their own identity. This includes forming an opinion on everything possible. They ask themselves questions to which there are not always easy answers. This can be very confusing. Some young people therefore particularly long for clarity. Simple answers, clear structures and rules – this is exactly what extremists want to offer them with their ideas, which are only black or white, but know no shades of gray.
Extremists usually convey their worldview through simplified content and short statements. They use current network trends, such as entertaining videos and images, to reach young people in particular with their extreme political statements. These include memes, for example, in which a message is memorably spread via a supposedly funny picture. People prefer to share such content via popular social networks such as YouTube, WhatsApp or Facebook. False reports are also often used to unsettle people and push them politically in one direction. However, certain content is not necessarily recognizable as extremist at first glance, especially for young people.
Right-wing extremists and Islamists are particularly active on the Internet. If their propaganda is clearly recognizable, it can usually be quickly deleted by the platform operators. That is why extremists are switching to lesser-known and less tightly controlled online sites, such as the Russian platform vk.com. A large part of the communication is not even visible to the public, but takes place in closed groups, e.g. on Telegram or Facebook.
Both right-wing extremists and Islamists like to see themselves in the role of victims. They pretend to be oppressed by their own or other states. Right-wing extremists in Germany often speak of the so-called “lying press.” They accuse the media of being controlled by the government, which is why extreme right-wing opinions have no voice. Both groups also express criticism of capitalism. This is particularly dangerous, since aspects of the criticism are entirely justified and are also shared by many young people. Extremists use this to win them over to their cause. More recently, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (i.e., theories directed against Jews) have again been increasingly spread from both camps. These conspiracy theories are now also appearing among musicians popular with young people – for example, in some songs by the German rapper Kollegah.
That’s why it’s especially important to talk to your children about what’s on their minds. Which topics are particularly hotly debated among friends? What images and videos do they look at and share? Also address the goals that certain groups pursue when they post content with extreme political statements online.
Make your child aware that anyone can express their opinion on the Internet and that, unfortunately, people with bad intentions also do so. That’s why you can’t just trust all content, you have to question it. On the site knowyourmeme.com, well-known memes can be looked up, including their history (unfortunately, the site is only available in English). Mimikama.at is a good place to check the truth of messages from social networks such as Facebook.
If you or your child come across obviously extremist content, you can report it directly to the platform operators. With large offerings like Facebook and YouTube, this is done with just a few clicks. In general, you can also use the Internet Complaint Center. In particularly serious cases, it may make sense to contact the police directly. In most federal states, this is now done online via a so-called Internet watch.