Online gaming platforms easy ground for extremists to target youth, parents should be more vigilant: Experts
SINGAPORE — Online gaming channels have become an easy target for extremist groups to radicalise and sometimes recruit young people, terrorism researchers and analysts said. It is also difficult to control such channels and online sites, which makes family and community support crucial in combating radicalisation through such means.
- Gaming platforms are attractive to extremists because they are difficult to regulate and block, terrorism researchers said
- This means that family and community support is crucial in combating radicalisation through such means, they added
- Two more teenagers in Singapore were radicalised through digital spaces Roblox and Discord, which are popular among gamers
- Gaming platforms are fertile grounds for spreading extremist content due to their large reach to a global youth audience and ease of communication, one researcher said
SINGAPORE — Online gaming channels have become an easy target for extremist groups to radicalise and sometimes recruit young people, terrorism researchers and analysts said.
It is also difficult to control such channels and online sites, which makes family and community support crucial in combating radicalisation through such means, they added.
Mr Muhammad Saiful Alam Shah Sudiman, an associate research fellow with the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), said that online gaming platforms such as Roblox and Discord have become more popular as a tool to radicalise and recruit the young because of its global reach and rapid means of communication.
Fellow researchers at RSIS said that online platforms can do more to protect users and prevent the online spread of terrorism content.
Associate research fellow Ahmad Saiful Rijal Hassan and research analyst Ahmad Helmi Mohamed Hasbi said in a joint response to TODAY: “Internet service providers can and should always examine their community guidelines, policies and practices to ensure the safety of their audiences, such as the creation of a reporting mechanism.”
They were commenting after the Internal Security Department (ISD) revealed that there were two new cases of teenagers who were self-radicalised through online gaming platform Roblox and instant messaging social channel Discord, which is popular among gamers.
The secondary school students, aged 15 and 16, were also engaged in discussions related to terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) on these channels.
The 15-year-old was arrested and detained last December under the Internal Security Act. The 16-year-old was placed under a Restriction Order, which limits his movements and use of the internet, among other strict conditions.
The 15-year-old considered carrying out knife attacks to behead non-Muslims in popular tourist areas in Singapore.
ISD told TODAY separately that he was detained as a preventive measure because he was deemed as an imminent security threat and would have gone on to carry out his violent plans.
The 16-year-old engaged in Isis-related propaganda on various online platforms including Roblox and Discord. He did not intend or plan to conduct armed violence here or abroad.
WHY GAMING SITES ARE ATTRACTIVE TO EXTREMISTS
On the trend of online gaming spaces being exploited by terror groups as a tool of influence, Mr Saiful from RSIS, who is also a volunteer religious counsellor with the Religious Rehabilitation Group, said that these sites are difficult to control and regulate.
The Australian and European Union authorities have also warned of extremists using gaming platforms to spread their ideologies.
Other terrorism researchers said that gaming sites are not inherently dangerous, but there are certain features in there that facilitate radicalisation.
For one thing, extremist actors find gaming platforms attractive for radicalisation because of its large reach to a massive young audience, little regulation and the ease of communication.
This was reported in a 2021 paper by German academic Linda Schlegel who is the founding member of the Extremism and Gaming Research Network that gathers United Nations agencies, think tanks and private sector organisations to study and come up with solutions to counter new online harms.
She also said that these online gaming platforms can provide a sense of community for young people who are typically isolated “lone actors”.
These young gamers may seek and receive approval from their newfound communities by engaging in terrorism propaganda, such as posting terrorism manifestos and livestreaming terrorism attacks.
Mr Suraj Lakhani, a researcher from the United Kingdom, pointed to wider communication concerns in a separate paper in 2021.
The privacy and anonymity features, connection in mostly secure settings, and encryption are some of the factors that make such platforms appealing to terrorist and violent extremist groups and actors.
WHY YOUNG ONLINE USERS NEED GUIDANCE
Mr Saiful from RSIS said: “The best way then is for both gaming platform users and their family members to be vigilant and aware of the dangers lurking in gaming platforms.
“Young users should have parental or adult guidance who can help them navigate the negative elements that may be present on these platforms.
“If the adult picks up on something that is not right or radical in content, they must quickly report to the authorities or to the administrators of the gaming sites.”
He added that cases of in-game radicalisation have happened in the past, mostly in the United States and Europe.
“Even closer to home is the case of an Australian youth last year who engaged with extremist content depicting a re-creation of the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attack in a popular online game.”
Mr Saiful noted that other countries have tried to deal with in-game radicalisation through public education and creating awareness among parents on ways to identify self-radicalisation among the young, such as when the children or family member:
- Distance themselves from their usual friends and family members
- Exhibit increasingly extremist ideas and behaviours
- Develop a fixation on conspiracy theories or contentious social issues
In a statement on Tuesday (Feb 21), ISD said that it is difficult to block access to harmful online content even though the authorities have implemented measures to tackle such content, such as the Online Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill enacted last November.
“The authorities can and have blocked access to harmful online content. However, in some cases, it may not be possible to block specific chat groups or channels on social media platforms, without cutting off all local access to entire platforms. Furthermore, new platforms and accounts can easily resurface.”
It added: “The Ministry of Home Affair’s community partners, such as the Religious Rehabilitation Group, have also intensified their counter-radicalisation outreach efforts through producing online lectures and videos.
“The public has a part to play, by being sensitised to the dangers of extremist ideas and not watching or disseminating extremist content, regardless of the platform.”
ISD also said that technology companies have a part to play in preventing and disrupting terrorists’ abuse of their platforms and services.
On Tuesday, the Eunos Harmony Circle, which is part of the Racial and Religious Harmony Circle formerly known as the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, said: “We must be more proactive in ensuring that young people in Singapore are not influenced by radical content and manipulated by violent extremists who want to destroy peace and order."
The group, which is a youth-centric platform for people of different religious and racial backgrounds, added: “We must nurture a network of youth leaders who will develop trust circles and organise activities that strengthen interfaith friendships at the grassroots level.”
WHAT A PARENT AND A ROBLOX USER SAY
The radicalisation of two teenagers who were using gaming sites to take in extremist content and ideologies has prompted at least one parent to ban her young children from playing on gaming platform Roblox.
Ms Mazanah Md Yusof, who has three children between six and 10 years old, said that she usually allows them to play on Roblox every weekend.
“The news of the youth radicalisation is really worrying. I will negotiate with my kids to remove their accounts and stop them from playing on the online platform for their safety,” the 40 year-old said.
One Roblox user, Ms Nur Insyirah, said that she will still continue using the platform, but will remain vigilant of harmful online content.
The 22-year-old undergraduate said: “I play the game about twice a month. I believe I am able to discern whether the information I receive on Roblox is true or false and harmful or not.”
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