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detecting extremism and radicalization by monitoring students online


In August 2015, Ali Shukri Amin, 17, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for conspiring to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization. Ali was recruited to the extremist organization through the internet while he was in high school.

Recently, thousands of people just like Ali have been coerced into following violent extremist views. These views are encouraged by terrorist organizations or other domestic violent extremist movements, or those maintaining biases towards others due to their race, religion or sexual orientation. Many of these followers learned more about these views through internet while they were still in school.

As this threat evolves and becomes more widespread, it becomes more important to detect and address students who succumb to messages including violence and hatred online. Inherently, young people possess risk factors that make them highly susceptible to extremist group recruitment. If not addressed, these risk factors — coupled with exposure to online propaganda — can lead to dire outcomes, as witnessed in recent tragedies such as the Orlando nightclub shootings.

who is at risk for radicalization?

While there is no single set of characteristics to identify who will cross the line into violence, there are many risk factors, as noted in recent studies. Young people who are still navigating life morals, values and their own sense of self can be easily swayed in the direction of extremist views. It is not uncommon for school-aged children to suffer from identity crises and grievances spurred by feelings of inadequacy surrounding race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. These feelings can leave children vulnerable to extremist ideologies pushed out online. Individuals pushing these messages persuade impressionable victims to their point of view by relating it back to the targets’ backgrounds. Children are most vulnerable to this type of grooming over the internet, especially on social media.

why should students be monitored?

In an article about Ali Shukri Amin, George Selim, director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Community Partnerships and head of a new task force on countering violent extremism, said, “Given the current scope of the threat, we believe family members, friends, coaches and teachers are best placed to potentially prevent and intervene in the process of radicalization.”

Monitoring internet activity in schools can help educators and administrators to detect issues, spot patterns in online behavior and intervene appropriately. Not only can monitoring detect threats of extremism and radicalization, but it can also flag issues such as bullying, LGBT derogatory language, suicide, weapons, violence and self-harm. By identifying these issues safeguarding staff can intervene, mentor and, in cases where students are being exposed to extremist content, offer those vital counter narratives.

how does monitoring software work?

Monitoring software is fundamentally different from content-blocking and filtering software. Filters allow or deny access to websites, while monitoring software uses lists of words or phrases to capture and identify inappropriate activity on PCs, laptops and other digital devices.

Once captured, the software logs an automatic screenshot or video recording. This allows educators and administrators to identify the context of any questionable conversation – such as a screenshot identifying a concerning word or phrase, a logged-in user or an IP address. When students use certain keywords, the software alerts the teacher. This can identify behaviors that cause concern and present the teacher with a way to communicate them.

how can you help students report suspicious or questionable behavior?

Impero Education Pro’s monitoring software provides students with a confidential way of reporting any concerns or worries about themselves or others to school counselors or administrators through its Confide function. Students can find comfort knowing their submissions are anonymous.

how does monitoring benefit schools?

The FBI’s publication Preventing Extremism in Schools states the following benefits of communicating concerning behaviors:

  • Aids in prevention activities
  • Enhances school safety
  • Aids in a student’s disengagement from a violent trajectory
  • Fosters open lines of communication within the student body and administrators
  • Enhances overall school climate

how can you get the keyword library?

Impero Education Pro’s keyword library feature is free of charge for school systems that currently have the product and for new purchasers of the software.

To find out more about how Impero education network management software can help your school detect extremism, radicalization and other online harms, request a free demo and trial on our website. To talk talk to our team of education experts, call 877.883.4370, or email Impero now to arrange a call back.