• A POSTnote on online extremism will examine the extent of the problem and explore solutions.
  • Following the Government’s 2019 Online Harms White Paper companies could be responsible for the safety of users. This note will look at digital & face-to-face solutions.
  • Work on this publication is now complete. You can read the report online here. Updated 6 May 2020.

Online extremist content has risen over the last few years, in part owing to increased dissemination via hacked social media accounts, live-streaming and content sharing on the dark web. The UK Government’s 2019 Online Harms White Paper sets out the intention to establish a new statutory duty to make online companies responsible for the safety of their users. One of the key harms covered in the White Paper is online extremist content, which it seeks to address via automatic detection, removal within an hour of upload and prevention of re-uploads. However, some stakeholders, such as the international advocacy organisation the Counter Extremism Project, suggest that this may not be enough to prevent people engaging with extremism online, because proliferators of content can find technological loopholes to ensure that the spread of content ‘outruns’ detection and removal, and individuals may purposefully seek out extremist content. 

Other approaches to tackling online extremism include identifying individuals at risk of extremism online and referring them to intervention programmes. Since 2006, individuals deemed at risk of extremism in the UK can be referred to the Prevent programme, part of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, where they may be offered various forms of support for deradicalisation, such as mentoring, cognitive-behavioural therapy or substance misuse interventions. However, reports by some stakeholders indicate that these programmes may be ineffective at changing the behaviour or opinions of participants, and have suggested that online intervention programmes (such as those used in other countries) or programmes that use new technologies (such as virtual reality) may be more effective and could reach a wider audience.

A POSTnote in this area will provide an overview of online extremism and examine the evidence for different approaches to counter it, including approaches to technologically prevent dissemination of content, as well as face-to-face and digital intervention programmes for at-risk individuals.