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With Threat Of Online Radicalization 'Bigger Than Ever,' Researchers Offer Guide For Parents

Researchers have released a new guide for parents about how to keep their kids from being recruited by extremists online.

The guide comes at a time when the pandemic's forcing children and young adults to stay home with more hours spent online, and they're prone to heightened anxiety amid social and political uncertainties, according to Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a sociologist at American University and author of the forthcoming book "Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right."

"A lot of the drivers we know to be key to creating susceptibility to extremist narratives are things like depression, anxiety, a sense of economic precarity, lack of purpose or meaning – all of the things that people are feeling intensely at the moment," Miller-Idriss said. 

The guide is a collaboration between American University and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights watchdog. It's intended to help parents identify warning signs that their kids might be vulnerable to "radical-right propaganda."

"But we also want parents and caregivers to understand that it's not just about recognizing risks," Miller-Idriss said. "There are also ways to kind of build resilience to those narratives and proactive ways that help young people be less vulnerable to extremist rhetoric when they do encounter it."

For example, Miller-Idriss said extremist groups have used COVID-19 as a opportunity to promote racist and xenophobic conspiracy theories on social media about the virus’ origin.

By some measures, the Mountain West has seen a disproportionate amount of hate-related activities in recent years.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2020 KUNC

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!
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