Radical groups are using online video games, cartoon characters and even crossword puzzles to promote their extremist agendas and encourage young people to join them.
The findings are contained in a new report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, titled Youth Online and at Risk: Radicalization Facilitated by the Internet. With children and youth so firmly plugged in online (the report cites a 2005 study that found 94 per cent of Canadian students between grades four and 11 had Internet access at home), extremists are benefiting from the ability to communicate directly with them.
Some groups use sophisticated marketing techniques that play to the psychology of the audience, the report found. This includes "narrowcasting," or sharpening a message to appeal to a specific group. An online al-Qaeda magazine, for instance, has run stories glorifying female suicide bombers in hopes of expanding the group's appeal among women. Another technique involves attacking mainstream views as damaging to a particular cause, in hopes of creating an "us or them" attitude, often using message boards and chat rooms that seek to get people involved in discussions of radical ideas.
"Supposed 'dangers' of inaction are put forth to create an atmosphere where one cannot sit idle and support through taking action or contributing resources is encouraged," the report says.
Many of these websites, however, have moved on from simply posting essays or creating forums for discussion to more insidious techniques. A rightwing political party in Austria, it says, created a computer game titled "Bye, Bye Mosque," in which the objective is to stop the construction of Muslim places of worship.
White supremacists in the United States, meanwhile, created a game called "Ethnic Cleansing," where players kill members of minority groups while dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits. A neo-Nazi group, it said, offered crossword puzzles with racist questions and answers aimed at younger children.
Other websites use graphic media to make its point, including photographs of the sites of suicide bombings and videos of beheadings.
While government monitors such websites and can shut them down in some cases, the RCMP says much of the onus is on parents and teachers, particularly in communities being targeted by extremist factions, to keep tabs on what children are viewing and discuss it with them.
"Monitoring and the disruption of internet sites by law enforcement agencies is only a temporary measure as the material is often duplicated elsewhere with the click of a mouse," the report says.