Social, media and youth radicalization in the digital age

6 Dec 2016 13:00h - 14:30h

Event report

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This session was organised by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO) and moderated by Mr Indrajit Banerjee, Director of the Knowledge Societies Division in the Communication and Information (CI) Sector at UNESCO. It was organised by Mr Cedric Wacholtz, Programme Specialist and Ms Xianhong Hu, Assistant Programme Specialist in the CI Sector at UNESCO. The challenges highlighted during the discussion tackled different aspects that focused primarily on the fight against radicalisation.

The first speaker, Mr Guy Berger, Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, stressed different points that have been noted throughout research done by UNESCO in the field of freedom of expression. One of the most important key issues at stake concerns the role played by social media in the radicalisation of youth, and the importance of stakeholders in the follow-up process, including governments, academics, researchers, and the private sector. 

Berger opened by noting that one of the conclusions that has been already been reached by UNESCO is that there is no scientific evidence linking the content on social media and radicalisation. According to Berger, it has been established that the Internet facilitates communication rather than driving radicalisation. He concluded by emphasising the importance of balancing freedom of expression and security. 

Mr Will Hudson, Senior Advisor for International Policy at Google, the second speaker of the panel, underlined the importance of cooperation between stakeholders, and the work of Google with governments to conduct investigations and focus on the information that might be requested in the fight against radicalisation. However, he stated that he does not believe that censorship is the answer, a point that was also raised and developed by the last speaker.  

Ms Barbora Bukovska, Article 19’s Senior Director for Law and Policy highlighted that radicalisation is not clearly defined; that there is a need to look at the core of the subject; and define precisely what we mean by radicalisation. She indicated that the term radicalisation is not only used to describe the behaviour of violent groups but also other advocates such as NGOs and religious groups. She also underlined that the term radicalisation changes depending on national differences, and can gather different aspects that need to be defined in order to be precise about which aspects are being targeted in the fight against radicalisation.  

The last speaker on the panel was Ms Rebecca MacKinnon, Director of the Ranking Digital Rights Project. MacKinnon supported Hudson’s contention that there is no evidence that censorship has an impact on the radicalisation of youth. She regretted a certain ‘clumsiness over censorship’, considering that a lot of content on social media has been erased, and numerous accounts deactivated only because they mentioned an issue linked to radicalisation, without any proof of involvement. Finally, she highlighted the collateral damages concerning the body of work created by journalists across the world that is mistakenly erased from the Internet. She considers that the first goal should be the protection of human rights and that in the fight against radicalisation: we should find solutions to protect these above all. 

by Ana Andrijevic