Five Things About the Role of Social Networks in Domestic Radicalization

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Research on radicalization risks and processes consistently points to the importance of social networks and interpersonal relationships in motivating toward or protecting against individual radicalization. It is critical to interrupt the radicalization process before people’s ideologies manifest into violence. Research, including studies funded by the National Institute of Justice, provides important insights into how social networks may either facilitate or prevent radicalization processes and disengagement efforts.

1. Radicalization is an inherently social process, even among so-called lone actors.

In-person and online social networks and subcultures can play a significant role in individual lone-actor radicalization processes.[1] These networks can promote radicalization through on- and offline social interactions but can also provide an opportunity for prevention or intervention.[2] Peers, families, and community members might become aware of their loved one’s radicalization through leakage (i.e., the person communicates information online and/or in person about their radicalization, extremist beliefs, or plans to carry out an attack).[3]

People in the social network of individuals on the path to radicalization should have access to support services so they recognize warning signs of radicalization. Some warning signs may include drastic changes in behavior, changes in an individual’s relationships and associations, unemployment (or low socioeconomic status), previous criminality, mental health disorders, and leakage of information prior to an attack.[4,5]

Family and friends of those being radicalized can report to police and others. They can also aid in prevention and intervention efforts. While this may help interrupt the radicalization process, loved ones might be reluctant to report to law enforcement due to a lack of trust and fear of the consequences of reporting.[6] Policy responses can facilitate increased reporting and intervention by building stronger partnerships between communities and law enforcement, implementing anonymous reporting mechanisms, and providing non-law enforcement resources to address concerns about radicalization within one’s social circle.[7]

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