Counter Terrorism Policing North East is warning the public of the potential dangers online, as people increase their use of digital media during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Officers are concerned that isolation measures could place vulnerable people at an increased risk of radicalisation as the pandemic drives them to spend more time online and restricts their access to support services.
Young people are among those who have lost a significant part of their support network following the closure of schools and higher education establishments and some may be finding it difficult to adjust to current restrictions and being away from friends. Coupled with the uncertainty generated by the pandemic, they are potentially more vulnerable to negative influences and exploitation as they explore their concerns online, or seek distractions and interaction with others.
Counter Terrorism Police are asking parents, friends and family to be aware of what young or vulnerable people in their care are looking at online and what to do if they are worried someone they know is being radicalised.
Anyone who has concerns is being encouraged to visit the ‘Let’s Talk About It” website www.ltai.info. The site has advice and guidance on what signs to look out for and where to go for help if they think someone is at risk of being drawn into violent extremism or terrorism. Those with immediate concerns are asked to contact police on 101, where they can access discreet and tailored support from a trained professional.
Detective Superintendent Matthew Davison is the Regional Prevent Coordinator at Counter Terrorism Policing North East. He said: “The closure of schools, colleges and universities, in addition to the loss of sports clubs and youth centres, means that many young people have lost valuable support from friends, teachers and mentors, at a time when they need it most.
“It is a time of great uncertainty for all of us and as the virus reduces our interaction with the outside world it is not surprising we are turning to the online space to explore our concerns and connect with others.
“We know that extremist groups across different ideologies are active in the same space and are looking to capitalise on the uncertainty created by the pandemic to promote disinformation, fear and hate. The current situation presents a unique opportunity for them to exploit this anxiety in an attempt to further their objectives and attract new followers.”
The Prevent Programme remains a vital part of cross-government efforts to safeguard vulnerable people from extremist influences across all ideologies. However, police have seen a significant decline in referrals since the lockdown and are concerned vulnerable people may slip through the cracks because they are fewer people to spot the early signs of radicalisation, or because people don’t know how to access the support that they need.
Prevent officers continue to work hard with partners throughout the region to support those who are already part of the Programme. While they have been required to adapt the way they work in order to meet public health guidance during the restrictions, they are still readily available to respond to any new requests for help or advice.
“We’d urge anyone who is worried about someone they know to visit the Let’s Talk About It website for more information, or to share their concerns with police,” said Detective Superintendent Davison. “It’s vital we act quickly to prevent people from being drawn too far down a path of violent extremism or terrorism.
“By working together and intervening early we can safeguard those most at risk of radicalisation and better protect them and our communities from harm.”
More information and guidance is available at the Let’s Talk About It and Action Counter Terrorism (ACT) websites. If you’re worried someone is in immediate danger, you should always call 999.