On the 2nd of November, I found myself in Helsinki, representing Restorative Justice for All Europe at a training event that promised to shed light on the ever-evolving digital landscape and the critical digital skills required for practitioners in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE). The event, organised by the Radicalisation Awareness Network, proved to be a remarkable journey into the challenges of our modern, digital age, with a particular focus on understanding and addressing the challenges posed by online radicalisation and mass recruitment. 

RJ4All, under Dr. Gavrielides, brings extensive experience to preventing violent radicalisation. The organisation’s multi-year programme focuses on exploring restorative justice’s role in preventing extremism, especially among youth. Led by Professor Gavrielides, the institute conducts original research, supports projects, and hosts events on a national and European scale. Noteworthy Erasmus+ projects include Restorative Dialogue against Violent Radicalisation (RDaVR) and mobilizing against extremism through countering and diverting radicalization of young people (RADEX).  

RJ4All’s unique approach rejects risk-centric management in favour of promoting talents and strengths. Gavrielides’ positive approach is encapsulated in the RJiNEAR model of resilience, crime prevention and control. The RJiNEAR model stands for “Restorative Justice through: I, myself, New Knowledge about myself, Emotional intelligence, Awareness of values, of options, of choice and responding with growth ‘in spite of …’. Overall, our approach uses psychosocial interventions, aiming to increase resilience and prevent anti-social behaviour.  

Navigating the Digital Landscape 

The training began with a comprehensive examination of the current digital landscape and the state of digital innovation. It became evident that to effectively counter radicalisation, practitioners must grasp the unique digital needs presented by these evolving threats. The creativity employed by radicalisation groups when grooming young individuals is incredible and not limited to the offline world. It extends into the digital realm, where the battle rages. Frontline practitioners should be able to interchange between offline and online world to capture the entire range of grooming and mass recruitment. 

We engaged in discussions about what’s happening online, who the target audience is, and which platforms present the most formidable challenges. Gaming platforms, in particular, emerged as a significant arena where radicalisation often takes root and evolves as the bigger business globally. It cannot be negated that the online world is a rather challenging space, and radicalisation groups are found to take advantage of the lack of proactivity of front-line practitioners. Therefore, and no matter potential ethical dilemmas, practitioners need to reach out to young people in these spaces, as this is the only way to connect with them, understand the targeting methods as well as what is this element leading young people to get involved in such networks. “Discord”, a popular communication platform, was dissected as an example of this complex issue and a platform for everyone who wishes to control extremism to navigate and explore further. 

Moreover, the training also explored the interconnectedness of online and offline radicalisation, revealing that these two realms represent an evolving continuum. Understanding vulnerabilities in both spaces is crucial. Localising efforts is key, but global events continue to influence recruitment. Young people, often caught in the midst of an identity search, are susceptible to the offering of an identity of belonging to a group – this is a missing element in our societies, which young people seek to find it in radicalised groups.  

Further to the identity concern, it is an undisputable fact that Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows malicious acts to go faster, be more accessible and more customised, making things worse and difficult to catch them on the making. With this in mind, practitioners should delve into the radicalisation world, both online and offline, to understand how the recruitment is established. 

Bottom line, there are six levels of deficits faced by practitioners, which need further development: digital, knowledge, innovation, creativity, partnership, and AI. If we wish to keep up with the grooming world, we need to work on all these levels. 

Practical Digital Tools and Strategies 

With the training focusing on the practical aspect of digital radicalisation and our side as practitioners, it is remarkable that there are several digital tools that can help us reach the right audience in the right way. Among these tools are CHATgpt, DALL-e 2 and 3, and in-video analysis, which are absolutely invaluable for crafting effective campaigns. All these tools can be instrumental in approaching the target audience and offering the alternatives they are missing at the moment before they are drifted into the radicalisation world. Undoubtedly, AI tools should be supplemented by the power of social media platforms, with TikTok taking central role. 

Collaborative Insights and Priorities 

The training naturally concluded with our main needs as practitioners. Ideas flowed, including the need to establish ethical guidelines, foster more partnerships, enhance information sharing, gain hands-on experience, and focus on incorporating emotional elements into our campaigns. The connection between offline and online radicalisation was emphasised, and the importance of avoiding stigmatising language and labelling was underscored. 

Undoubtedly, the training’s conclusion corroborates RJ4All’s approach and effort to give to young people the much-needed transformation through participation. RJ4All, using the RJiNEAR intervention with young people, tries to promote talents and strengths and help them develop positive identities, instead of stigmatising them and putting them on the opposite side. Our unique approach is captured as the Good Lives Model (GLM) but enhanced and articulated through the values and practices of restorative justice including power sharing, dialogue, fairness, equality and autonomy. The model works towards a positive, growth-oriented change in life where a person at risk works on the development of the values, skills and resources towards life based on human goods.  

As I left the training, I couldn’t help but feel that the knowledge gained was not just a professional asset but a profound understanding of the role we all play in safeguarding our digital future. Education and strong partnerships must be prioritised to effectively navigate the complex digital landscape in the battle against radicalisation. 

Technology is neutral – it is on each one of us on how to use it! 

Written by Sofia Sideridou, RJ4All Europe Manager 

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