Building peace in the minds of men and women

Youth and the Internet: Fighting Radicalization and Extremism

About the conference

From socializing and entertainment to homework, the Internet is an essential part of life for young people today, opening vast new opportunities for connecting and learning. At the same time, the Internet provides violent extremists with powerful tools to propagate hatred and violence and to identify and groom potential recruits, creating global online communities that promote radicalization.

"We see the rise of a new generation of digital natives today," said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova "Our task must be to empower a new generation of digital citizens at the global level – starting with education, new intercultural skills, and deeper media and information literacy.

The Conference will support the action of States and the international community, by understanding more clearly the use of Internet in fueling violent extremism and by exploring effective tools in response.

In this light, the Conference will discuss the insight and experiences of Governments, international organizations, research and academia, as well as Internet companies, and present case studies from around the world. It will also focus on the rich, multifaceted landscape of youth online engagement, particularly youth-led initiatives that are paving the way ahead. 

“The youth equation holds the key to the future of many countries – especially those experiencing tensions or emerging from conflict. There are some 1.2 billion young people in the world today – between the age of 15 and 24 years old—with many societies featuring large bodies of unemployed youth, lacking education, skills and prospects, in a context of changing family structures, rapid urbanization, and rising perceptions of marginalization,” said Irina Bokova. 

Violent extremism is an affront to the principles of the United Nations, embodied in respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is also a rising threat to societies everywhere undergoing deep transformation.  Countering violent extremism calls for actions across the board and the long-term that strengthen the foundations for solidarity. This is UNESCO’s role, to deepen cooperation through education, the sciences, culture and communication, supporting Member States, civil society actors, academia and private sector in order to prevent and reduce youth radicalization online.

To these ends, UNESCO promotes greater investment in access to quality education for all young women and men – including education for global citizenship as well as new intercultural competencies, to advance mutual respect between different cultures and communities. Media and information literacy programs are essential here, to help youth better identify and reject extremist propaganda. This approach to literacy includes raising awareness about hate speech, its causes and consequences, and the creation of new platforms and networks for dialogue and mutual understanding. The mobilization of civil society, as well as online communities and internet intermediaries (including search engines, Internet service providers, social media), is also important.

“UNESCO’s position is clear – the Internet and new ICTs must be platforms for positive engagement, peace, promoting respect for human  rights and dignity, enabling dialogue and mutual understanding,” said the Director-General.

This calls also for greater efforts to remove gender bias, to bridge linguistic divides, to enhance capacities so as to harness the power of new technologies, to enable every young woman and man to participate online for the benefit of all.

The Conference, organized in the framework of the Intergovernmental Information for All Programme (IFAP), will seek to create a global network of partners to support advocacy and knowledge sharing. UNESCO will also present the working proposal for a multidimensional pilot project, drawing on all existing work, to help empower youth to address online radicalization and extremism, and realize their aspirations to contribute to a more peaceful and sustainable world.

“We need to support young women and men, with new skills and opportunities, to advance human rights online and new forms of intercultural dialogue, for greater mutual understanding and respect,” said the Director-General. “Young people must be provided with avenues to grow and develop positively, nurturing their creativity and innovation to unlock solutions to many of the urgent problems of our planet on the basis of solidarity.”