Fighting radicalization to enhance e-strategy for a youth-comprehensive approach towards on-line terrorism

The Power of Civil Society in the prevention of youth radicalization; Success stories

Since the devastating attacks of 9/11, terrorism has continued to plague countries across the globe. The evolution of terrorist tactics, the proliferation of terrorist organizations and the increasing use of information and communication technology to disseminate fear and radical ideology have presented members of the international community with an array of ever-involving challenges. Indeed, in recent years, terror and extremist groups have succeeded in using the Internet to radicalize an increasing number of young people (defined by the European Union as between 15 and 29 years old). However, it must be understood that the Internet is one of many tools used to achieve the means. The reasons behind radicalization can run much deeper.

In the last decades, a tremendous amount of effort has been placed on countering and preventing radicalization that leads to violent extremism and terrorism. One does not suddenly decide to join a terrorist organization or commit an act of terrorism. Radicalization is a complex process, and preventing radicalization is key to countering terrorism. It is also a phenomenon that cannot be combatted on a single front; it has been stressed that a multi-agency approach including policy-makers, educators, institutions, families, peers and youth must work together to better comprehend and prevent the most vulnerable members of society from succumbing to destructive ideologies. Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are often very well placed to bridge the gap between communities and government, and are ideal actors to engage in the fight against violent radicalization.

This paper will explore precisely why CSOs, when empowered, can implement successful initiatives to prevent radicalization. Strategies and case studies will be presented, as will a section on the concept of radicalization in academic literature. Radicalization and terrorism have torn apart the fabric of societies globally on more than one count, and in order to heal and prevent more tragedy, the role of CSOs is more important than ever.

Radicalization: Key Concepts and Theories

While there is no universal definition of the term “radicalization”, numerous authors have provided explanations and interpretations. Trip et al. combine some of the definitions given by prominent scholars to summarize radicalization as “a process of developing extremist beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. The extremist beliefs are profound convictions that oppose the fundamental values of society, the laws of democracy and universal human rights by advocating the supremacy of a particular group (racial, religious, political, economic, social etc.). The extremist emotions and behaviors may be expressed both in non-violent pressure and coercion and in actions that deviate from the norm and show contempt for life, freedom, and human rights” (Trip et al, 2019).

The word “process” is key, and it is on this aspect that civil society should focus more. By viewing radicalization as a process, it is understood that there are multiple levels in the said process, and each level may require different approaches for intervention. As CSOs are often more directly engaged with youth vulnerable to radicalization, they can collect first hand observations, skills and experience to develop a more comprehensive approach and provide well-researched recommendations to policy makers. Understanding the process also requires understanding the psycho-sociological mechanisms behind it; The following section will elaborate further on academic research that explains some of the motivations and factors that may push people towards radical ideology and violent extremism.

Descriptions of the radicalization process in academic literature

Doosje et al (2016) propose three phases of radicalization. These phases are further dissected into three levels: micro (individual), meso (group) and macro (societal). In addition, the authors distinguish five different types of radical groups: nationalist or separatist groups, extreme right-wing groups, extreme left-wing groups, single issue groups and religiously motivated groups. These groups, while holding drastically divergent ideological concerns and aims, share common characteristics namely: they perceive a serious problem in society, they are strongly dissatisfied with the way current political institutions handle the problem, they consider that the values and norms of other groups are inferior to their own, and lastly, most radical groups not only legitimize the use of violence as an end to their means, but also possess a strong belief in the efficiency of violence and often this violence is directed at the group perceived to be responsible for their grievance, which may be society as a whole and/or governmental institutions.

The first phase is sensitivity, which on a micro-level describes a quest for significance and personal uncertainty. The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS) is notorious for using the doubt and insecurities of youngsters to recruit them, as they provide them with alternatives such as fighting for a “holy” cause, a sense of belonging, heroism, etc.  On a meso level, this phase describes relative deprivation and the influence radicalized friends or family members can have on an individual. On a macro level, the wider context, such as societal factors or cultural wars comes into play.

The second phase is group membership. On a micro-level, a person is motivated to adhere to group norms, and display loyalty. On a meso-level, an individual breaks away from old networks and leaves his/her old life behind to strengthen the bonds with a newfound brotherhood. Initiation rituals and training are notable aspects of this phase. On a macro-level, a declaration of a wider network (such as ISIS) can be seen as the physical consolidation of an ideology on a territory, which augments the perception of group efficiency.

The third and final phase of radicalization is action. The push to action on a micro-level could be explained partly by individual grievances, such as the loss of a loved one or a friend. On a meso-level, the perceived threat by an out-group can be a call and justification for violence. Lastly, on a macro-level, the encouragement by authorities within the group to use violence can play an important role in an individual’s decision to act.

The authors point out that people can resist the narratives and temptations from radical groups if they develop a strong “shield of resilience”. Paradoxically, this shield of resilience can also prevent radicalized individuals from embracing de-radicalization efforts. Nevertheless, the shield of resilience is a highly important element to consider when implementing measures of radicalization prevention. CSOs can play a role in building up the shield of resilience when working with vulnerable youth by employing counter-narrative strategies such as teaching youth critical thinking techniques, and ways to deconstruct misleading fallacies.

Silke (2008) notes several psychological aspects which coincide with the work of Doosje et al. He highlights how in the case of jihadist recruits, those with a strong sense of Muslim identity identify with the wider Muslim community, known as the Ummah. These connections foster a sense of responsibility towards the Ummah as a whole, and an individual’s religious identity can often take precedent over ethnic or national identity. This sense of responsibility and common religious identity can often be preyed upon by terrorist organizations which seek to recruit individuals through malicious interpretations of religion and faith. Interestingly, studies have shown that the majority of jihadi recruits have little to no religious backgrounds. Sageman (2004) found that just 18% of Islamist extremists had religious schooling. Similarly, Roy (2016) found that the majority of jihadi recruits in France “almost never had religious education but had a rapid and recent path of conversion/reconversion, more often in the context of a group of friends rather than in a mosque”.

As such, the religious element does not sufficiently explain the mindset of an Islamist terrorist. Rather, group loyalties provide a stronger explanation. As Silke describes, many terrorists become radicalized in small, like-minded groups. These groups create an ideal environment for the fermentation of radical ideology, as they reinforce group identity, loyalty and commitment, which then facilitates engagement in jihad. Additionally, Silke highlights that marginalization, discrimination and perceived injustices foster a feeling of “us vs them”. These elements are preyed upon in extremist propaganda, such as terrorist organizations sharing graphic images of atrocities carried out against Muslim populations in Chechnya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Palestine and other places. This can lead individuals to develop an urge for vengeance, not only for the injustices committed to them but to their community.

Interpersonal relations and groups, personal grievances and social identity are recurring themes in the study of radicalization. Understanding these, as well as the unique reasons of individuals involved in the work of CSOs, can better shape the radicalization prevention programs and activities CSOs choose to implement.

Civil Society Organizations as Key Actors

As explained previously, radicalization is a complex process that requires a multi-agency and holistic approach, in order to prevent youth from succumbing to radical ideology that could escalate to extremism, political violence or terrorism. CSOs can play an instrumental role, as they are often more credible, knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to working with at risk groups (OSCE, 2018). However, cooperation between government institutions, local communities and the CSOs in question remains crucial to ensure the inclusion of all stakeholders concerned with the issue of radicalization.

In order to understand how CSOs can be effective partners in the prevention of youth radicalization, one must first understand their characteristics, capacities and limitations. Civil society is a broad term that includes the “third-sector” of society, consisting of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, associations etc. The civil society sector is commonly non-governmental, not-for-profit and non-commercial, and oftentimes CSOs bridge the gap between policy makers and communities. In other words, civil society can be defined as “a diverse body of civil actors, communities, and formal or informal associations with a wide range of roles, who engage in public life seeking to advance shared values and objectives” (OSCE, 2018).

CSOs are often better placed and experienced to carry out radicalization prevention programs and projects, as they tend to work at local, grass-root level while having access to the concerned community and holding influence and legitimacy. Moreover, their direct work with communities means they have the relevant knowledge, skills and experience to comprehend local dynamics, and provide a platform for addressing demands and grievances. While CSOs are best placed to drive efforts, they require support by the community and the government. Hence, it is primordial to formally integrate CSOs in the design and implementation of national radicalization prevention frameworks and policies. Such frameworks can define the roles and responsibilities of CSOs and clarify their operational capacities, as to better translate policy into practice (ICCT 2018).

Strategies for preventing youth radicalization

There are several different aspects of radicalization prevention CSOs can engage themselves in, depending on their experience and line of work. The Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN) highlights seven different approaches of radicalization prevention efforts. These are: training for first line practitioners, exit strategies, community engagement and empowerment, educating young people, family support, delivering alternative narratives and multi-agency structures (RAN 2019). These approaches combined provide a holistic way to prevent radicalization, and oftentimes one CSO or one project can employ more than one approach.

While each approach deals with different actors, there are overarching strategies that CSOs must retain when implementing radicalization prevention projects, irrespective of the approach they choose. The following section will introduce a (non-exhaustive) list of these strategies.

Defining goals and objectives

When a CSO decides to implement a radicalization prevention program, it is important to clarify the goals of the program from the onset. There are many possible ways to approach radicalization prevention, as such the CSO should not overwhelm itself by trying to do too much at once. Goals and objectives should be specific, realistic (according to the time frame, budget, intended target group size and resources of the CSO) and measurable. It is also important to plan out the phases of the project, so the CSO has a defined time frame to meet its targets. For example, if a CSO wants to run an online alternative-narrative campaign that aims to promote critical thinking amongst young people, specific objectives should be outlined in order to achieve that aim. That is to say, the program organizers should ask themselves the relevant questions: How many young people can we realistically aim to reach? What social media platform is best suitable for the campaign? How will we measure engagement? The objective shouldn’t be vague, i.e; engage young people, as this could potentially cause the program organizers to miss important data and the intended demographic, and eventually fail to reach goals.

Monitoring and Evaluation              

Once the goals and objectives are outlined, it is vital to set in place monitoring and evaluation strategies in order to ensure the effectiveness of the program, project or campaign. This is particularly relevant as radicalization prevention projects tend to run over a long period of time. Hence, it is important to monitor the progress of the project and evaluate whether the methods used are efficient or not. This way, if the organizers realize (through monitoring and evaluation) that one of the methods they are using to complete an objective is not as efficient as hoped, they can adapt strategies. Indicators of progress can be decided upon at the onset (such as baseline numbers, targets etc.) as can evaluation techniques (questionnaires, surveys, peer reviews and so on). Furthermore, monitoring and evaluation is not only important for assessing the impact of the project, but can also help the CSO justify and attract funding (OSCE 2017).

Taking once again the example of a CSO running an alternative narrative campaign – if the CSO simply shares content on a social media page, without making use of the analytics (likes, shares, comments, levels of engagement etc.) then it might disregard relevant insights. Social media platforms like Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter offer page owners with specific insights such as, how long videos are watched for, what is the geographical location of those who interact with the content, what is the age range of followers, the number of people who viewed a page etc. Using these analytics to monitor the project ensures that it stays on track.

Using appropriate language

Radicalization is a very sensitive topic and when approaching people who are directly concerned (such as at-risk youth and their families), it is important to use language that does not patronize or offend the target audience. Neutral or positive language and terms should be used when discussing these topics with the target group. In any case the communication from the practitioners to the target audience should be clear and straightforward.

Moreover, the use of definitions for terms such as radicalization, terrorism, etc. should be consistent. It is advisable to use the definitions of the government and this remains important when a project involves practitioners from various sectors, and it is recommended that partners discuss the scope of the linguistic terms they will use in order to establish a framework to follow. The language used by CSOs in radicalization prevention should not be strongly security oriented, as this tends to intimidate people (RAN 2019).

Training first line practitioners

As mentioned previously, first line practitioners (FLPs) can often be in a favorable position to implement radicalization prevention efforts. However, it is imperative for FLPs who work with vulnerable or at-risk target groups to undertake the relevant training that would not only equip them with the skills to recognize signs of radicalization, but also provide them with the skills to respond to them. Part of the training should also be concentrated towards teaching FLPs to adapt an appropriate demeanor, which would not show bias or judgement.

Training courses for FLPs can be generic or tailor made, however there are some important elements that should be included in the workshops such as, terminology, different types of extremist groups, basic overview of extremist ideology, the radicalization process, indicators of radicalization and how to respond to them. Moreover, as local circumstances have to be considered to adopt the best possible techniques, the local context and national legislative framework should be included in the training. Organizational issues, privacy concerns and information sharing techniques should also be discussed, as radicalization prevention will involve several stakeholders.

Taking into account the local context

While radicalization and terrorism are global phenomena and encompass common trends, CSOs should bear in mind the local context when implementing projects. While certain counter-radicalization practices can overlap, some activities may not work as efficiently depending on where they are implemented. A radicalization prevention program implemented in a stable, democratic country may have more space and resources to operate in that a program being implemented in an unstable country or conflict zone. Therefore, CSOs must evaluate their environment in order to design the most feasible and realistically achievable objectives.

Aside from adapting to the environment, CSOs should also evaluate the needs, motivations, beliefs and influences of their target group. Cultural and subcultural specificities should not be overlooked, especially when working with young people. Finding common ground with the target group and showing responsiveness can help build a bridge towards dialogue and maximize engagement. If the CSO also includes members of the community that are “credible” in the eyes of the target group, such as family members, religious figures, peers, influencers and others, the target group is more likely to receive the messages of the project than if it were coming from people perceived to be outsiders.

Ensuring a multi-agency approach

Radicalization cannot be fought on a single front and the multi-agency approach has been recognized and stressed by various governments, institutions and CSOs, and naturally it is one that requires the highest levels of coordination and cooperation. This approach requires support from actors across various sectors, but it also creates the possibility for intervention at multiple levels. Key stakeholders to include in a multi-agency approach are youth, women, community leaders, educators, teachers and schools, law enforcement/community police services, academics/researchers, former violent extremist, information technology and social media sector, and the media/reporters (OSCE, 2018). Depending on the aims and goals of the project, a CSO can coordinate objectives with one or more stakeholders and truly include them in the process.

For the sake of fluid coordination and manageability, it is important to designate one lead partner in the consortium, all the while establishing a clear consensus on the roles and responsibilities of the partners. A multi-agency approach can, and should, build on existing links between stakeholders, such as social services and law enforcement, the education and health sector etc. This prevents overlap and overburdening the partners.

Ensuring privacy and information sharing

Employing effective information sharing mechanisms facilitates the multi-agency approach, by keeping partners up to date, allowing them to share their expertise and implement their objectives. By combining information and expertise, partners can then develop the best techniques to recognize signs of radicalization and decide upon the best methods of intervention.

However, when engaging with at-risk populations, CSOs and their partners are naturally going to encounter sensitive information. Thus, partners should establish clear guidelines and mechanisms to ensure safe information sharing. Furthermore, partners should cooperate and reciprocate in sharing relevant information to the aims of the project- this helps build trust within the consortium. Moreover, it can also help build trust with the participants of the project, if the CSO can ensure that the privacy of participants is respected. Certain clashes in obligations can arise in the sense that a practitioner may have to breach confidentiality in favor of sharing information with partners, if said practitioner feels that a participant is at an immediate risk of harming his/her self or others.

Notable examples and success stories

In the following section, some campaigns and projects will be showcased, as to provide more concrete, real-life examples of successful CSO strategies.

From Personal Transformation to Positive Social Impact: IAHV Model


The International Association for Human Values (IAHV), an NGO based in Geneva, Switzerland, aims “to build sustainable and inclusive peace by promoting and supporting the development of human values in both the individual and societies on a global scale” (IAHV, n.a).

IAVH has developed a holistic approach which focuses on the psycho-social drivers of violent radicalization and extremism. Its Peacebuilding Programs are designed to: “bring about a profound, self-sustaining transformation in attitude, mindset, well-being and behaviour of individuals and communities involved or affected by violence and extremism, inspire and train participants to use non-violent means to achieve legitimate needs, and mobilise them to become effective peacebuilders in their own communities” (IAVH, n.a).  Moreover, the IAVH programs are catered to address the needs of specific target groups, such as ex-combatants, youth that is vulnerable to radicalization, and victims of terrorism (survivors, families and communities). It has also designed a training program for first line practitioners and youth leadership.

The IAVH approach has had significant impact worldwide as more than 7,400 fighters from groups such as the FARC, the LTTE, Naxalites and militants from Kashmir and Assam, have renounced violence. Rehabilitation programs have been implemented for 600,000 prisoners and prison staff, and stress and trauma has been reduced for 150,000 trauma relief beneficiaries (RAN, 2019).                                                                 

Witness of History


Implemented by the NGO Women Without Borders (WwB), headquartered in Vienna and working across 40 countries, the Witness of History film series project collected testimonies from victims of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. After noticing that survivors and family members of victims of the attacks were often overlooked in mainstream media, Witness of History was started to create a platform for victims to raise their voice and provide their raw, honest and personal accounts of the events.            

While researching, interviewing participants, filming testimonies, editing and publishing videos can be a time consuming and cost-effective process, this is a rather sustainable model as the videos can be accessed online even after the project ends, and the videos can also be reused as part of training programs, projects, educational material etc.                             



Pericles (Policy recommendation and improved communication tools for law enforcement and security agencies preventing violent radicalization) was started to develop a “comprehensive approach to prevent and counter radicalisation and extremism” (Pericles, n.a). The project developed counter-propaganda techniques that are specific to target groups (left-wing, right-wing and religious extremist groups), and created a platform with materials and toolkits that can be used by stakeholders such as law enforcement, families, and educators, hence promoting and facilitating a multi-agency approach.



EXIT-Germany focuses on assisting individuals who wish to disengage from extreme right-wing groups and aids them in their reintegration into society. Over the years, it has developed innovative and creative campaigns to raise awareness. Awareness for this initiative is very important as EXIT-Germany does not seek out members of extreme right-wing groups, but rather, it believes that the step to disengage should be taken by the members in question. Therefore, having an effective publicity strategy makes it easier for members of extreme right-wing groups to know about EXIT-Germany’s mission, and contact them when they choose to disengage.     

One campaign held by EXIT-Germany was the “Trojan T-shirt”. 250 T-shirts were printed with the slogan “Hardcore rebels: national and free”. They then managed to supply the t-shirts to the organizers of Europe’s biggest right-wing rock festival. The shirts were distributed amongst attendees, who later found that once the t-shirts had been washed, the slogan had been washed off too. The phrase “If your T-shirt can do it, so can you. We can help you to get free of right-wing extremism. EXIT-Germany”, now appeared.

The campaign generated outrage from right-wing groups, who posted about it on social media. This was rather counter-productive, as it generated a lot of media buzz for EXIT-Germany. The story was picked up by national and international news outlets, and “Trojan T-shirt” was the number one social media hit in Germany for 2011. Within a year of the campaign, the number of ring-wingers who reached out to EXIT-Germany for help in disengagement tripled. (EXIT-Deutschland, 2012). This kind of campaign shows that innovation and creativity can achieve the aim of raising awareness and attracting youngsters who want to disengage. Furthermore, it is possible that a member of an extreme right-wing organization remembers the campaign years later when he/she is ready to leave the group, thus continuing its success.

Second wave “My City Real World”


This project, implemented by the International Debate Education Association (IDEA), aimed to improve the relationships of young men and police officers from Gouda (The Netherlands), through dialogue and workshops. The workshops resulted in positive attitudinal changes from youth to police officers (and vice versa), improved interactions and better understanding of the other party. Following the project, a short documentary was published. Sharing the footage on social media not only helped disseminate the project and inspire others, but also created materials for other CSOs wishing to try a similar approach. This type of workshop is indeed quite transferable; the workshops were first tried in the United Kingdom before being implemented in Gouda. However, it is important to develop a framework and structure through which to run the dialogue, in order to avoid tensions or confrontations that may risk counter-productivity.              

Extreme Dialogue


The Extreme Dialogue project “aims to reduce the appeal of extremism among young people, and offer a positive alternative to the increasing amounts of extremist material and propaganda available on the internet and social media platforms” (Extreme Dialogue, n.a). In order to do so, the project produced a series of short films and educational material that could be used by other civil society actors, educators, first line practitioners, policy makers and parents including a ‘Facilitator Guide’ that combines 20 years of collective educational experience. This guide highlights key pedagogical approaches and shares best practices.

This project was tested out in schools in the United Kingdom, Canada, Hungary and Germany. Through the use of feedback forms, partners were able to monitor and evaluate the progress of the project. The project yielded favorable results, with participants (from the educational sector) reporting higher levels of confidence when discussing radicalization and extremism with young people.


CSO are key actors that can build on the grass-root level experiences which enables them to build bridges between their communities and policy makers. The CSOs listed above, as well as countless others, have shown that their practices have made a true impact and can be replicated and adapted to different contexts.

However, civil society cannot ensure its own success. It needs the support of its community members, and of course governments. CSOs should work in partnership with government institutions but be allowed to work without interference and with respect to fundamental human rights, such as freedom of assembly, expression and association (OSCE, 2017). Unfortunately, in unstable or fragile countries, CSOs are seen as “enemies of the State” (Steadman, Moix, 2019). CSOs can be excluded from the decision-making process, allowing distrust in institutions to foster. As a result, their operational capacities can be severely limited, in terms of resources, funds and mandates. Yet, it is in such places of rampant instability and governmental misconduct that the work of CSO could be considered most crucial.

Governments that have engaged themselves to fight terrorism and prevent radicalization should mitigate obstacles in the path of CSOs, promote capacity-building and provide secure and safe mechanisms for CSOs to carry out their work. CSOs themselves should strive to employ the strategies that most benefit their communities, as to promote its values and ensure its well-being and prosperity. It is also important for CSOs to share their experiences with others, as to not only ensure sustainability and transferability, but also to raise awareness. By combining their experiences, learning from their mistakes and promoting their success, so can the power of civil society truly be raised.

Appendix I: “Database on good & bad practices of online counter-radicalization campaigns”

CriteriaDescriptionCampaign ExamplesGeneral lessons from the field
Define clear goalsObjectives and goals should be specific (they should not be abstract ambitions but rather quantifiable milestones); measurable (campaigners should be able to discern, from available metrics and evaluation activities, whether they were achieved); and realistic (considering a campaign’s time-spam, budget, intended audience size and available resources).  Example: One campaign decided to use humorous videos to undermine extremist propaganda (TA: 18-25 year-olds vulnerable to radicalisation). However, no clear method/ goals were defined from the onset. Hence, monitoring and evaluating the impact of the campaign was rendered very difficult. Only short term outcomes such as likes, shares, comments were measured, but the content of the responses were not analysed through sentiment analysis.   Lessons: It is imperative to plan out the phases of the project as to use the most appropriate measuring tools and develop better content.Do: have specific, measurable and realistic objective. Ex: ‘have 1000 online conversations with young people through comments or direct messages.   Don’t: simply state ‘engage young people’.
Know your audienceIt is important to truly understand your target audience (TA) as to conduct a more effective campaign. Knowing not only demographics, but also the target group’s priorities, needs, motivations, beliefs, influences etc. will allow you to frame your campaign in a more specific manner.   It is also important to partner with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) or Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that have working experience with your TA, as to ensure your campaign takes into account specificities and sensibilities.Do: Carry out research and ensure your thoroughly comprehend your audience’s needs.   Don’t: Overestimate your capacity to capture its complexity.
Disseminate relevant messagesA counter-radicalization campaign can have several messages, but they need to be consistent, clear and relevant to the goals you are trying to achieve. The message should be relevant to your TA’s needs and stimulate their emotions and thoughts. It should also carry “social currency” (meaning it would “boost” members of your TA’s social standing, and make their peers want to share the message).   It is important to avoid too many monologues in the campaign, and invite interaction and discussion.Example: A campaign that aimed at debunking conspiracy theories produced a video that showed different conspiracy theories, to attract the interest of the TA. In the second part of the 2-minute video, humour was introduced to make people rethink their beliefs. The videos reached their target audience, but most did not watch the video to the end and missed the twist. Hence, the campaign was counterproductive.   Lessons: By using the analytics of social media platforms, learn how long tend to watch campaign videos for, and hence adapt the timing of your message.Do: Test your message with a focus group as to learn where it works and where it doesn’t, and how it resonates.   Don’t: use confrontational approaches that could be perceived as an attack on the TA’s core beliefs and values. This might be counterproductive and dangerous, as it might only reinforce extremist ideology.
Use of relevant keywordsUsing targeted words in the campaign could help attract the target audience.
Age-appropriate contentFor example, the target age group for the F4Y project is 13-30. As minors are involved, it would be best not to publish any content that would be too graphic for such age group and to avoid glorifying acts of terrorism.
Easy to use and attractive interface and platformThe website of the project should be attractive and informative, and the contents of the campaign should be accessible. Social media pages should be eye-catching, and the content should be concise and straightforward.
Tone and coherence of campaignsCounter-radicalization-centric strategies are inherently defensive and reactive, whereby they depend on the adversary’s messaging in order to create its own messaging. Consequently, the adversary tends to not only initiate but shape the pace and nature of the information contest.   Studies have shown that success in the information theatre tends to follow the actors who proportionally disseminate more offensive/alternative than defensive messages compared to their adversaries.   Furthermore, it is vital that the counter-radicalization narrative messages are thematically consistent and coherent at a broader narrative level.Do: Synchronise campaign and message design to ensure coherent messaging over the short, medium and long term, in order to compete against the adversaries in the ‘information theatre’. There needs to be a clear and simple-to-understand overall narrative.   Don’t: Over use theme-based messaging, as it risks the strategic communications campaign falling into cyclical messaging that is less adaptive to change, especially over the medium to long term.
Work with “familiar” messengersEngaging people who are directly involved with the TA and who are familiar with its language and (sub-) cultures will maximise the engagement with the TA, as the message is coming from credible actors and could be better received than if it were coming from those perceived as outsiders.   As the campaign can have multiple messages, it is logical to work with multiple messengers. Potential messengers could be family members, former extremists, influencers, peers and/or community leaders. It is important to note that only the TA itself can truly decide the credibility of the messenger.Example: What’s up? Peer education in Social Networks. Following a peer-approach, young Muslim adults that have been trained to engage in online-discussions, encourage Muslim youngsters to participate in public debate and to develop individual responses to relevant topics in society and politics.   Addressing issues ranging from local politics, discrimination, and religious issues to global conflicts, the project renders visible the diversity of Muslim approaches and intervenes in early stages of radicalisation.
MediumFor online counter-radicalization campaigns, it is important to use the same platform as the TA. This requires adequate research into the social media habits of the TA, and distinguishing which platform (ex: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, Snapchat etc.) is used more frequently.   This will aid in maximising the outreach of your campaign and the engagement with your TA. The medium should be decided as early on in the process as possible.Example: The Witness to History campaign was a series of films based on victim’s testimonials of terror attacks. The videos were published on the organiser’s website (women without borders), but was subsequently shared on the social media pages of the organisers (I.e.: Women without Borders).   Lessons: The campaign was effective and well disseminated over the years. However, as the campaign itself does not have its own social media page or website, this may limit its visibility.Do: Thoroughly research the most common media platforms used by the TA as maximise the chances of the campaign reach. One should also consider using the right medium for the right purpose.   For example, the TA could use Facebook as a source of news, but be more interactive and responsive on Instagram. Hence, if the aim of the campaign is to create short informative videos, then it would be best to disseminate it on Facebook.   But if the aim of the campaign is to collect qualitative data, then using Instagram stories for polls, questions etc. could be the better option.
Call to ActionIn order to measure the impact of your campaign, the engagement with the TA has to be taken into account. This means providing a space where your TA can respond and participate.   Thus, calling members of your TA to action and encouraging them to participate, by asking them to donate money for a shared cause, volunteer, participate in events and demonstrations, and even simply talking to campaign organisers through a dedicated phone line or website, will further involve your TA in the project and help you measure your reach and impact.Example: Nazis against Nazis-Germany’s most involuntary charity walk. EXIT-Germany managed to use neo-Nazi demonstrations against them by engaging with residents in Wunsiedel, a town in which neo-Nazis annually demonstrate and disturb its residents. For every meter the Neo-Nazis marched, 10 euros would be donated to Exit-Germany, as such raise much needed funds to safely help individuals disengage from far-right extremism. A total of 10,000 euros was raised.   Lessons: This campaign was highly effective, not only in terms of financial terms, but also in terms of its engagement with citizens and in terms of media-buzz.Do: Create a call to action that will resonate with the TA. If the call to action carries “social currency” (ie: it makes the participant sound smart or funny), it will encourage participants to share the initiative with their peers.
Link between online and offlineSuccessful online prevention of radicalization campaigns are often linked to offline actions. With F4Y’s online campaigns, numerous offline events (trainings/workshops/roundtables) will be organised to foster the impact of the online campaigns.Example: The Radical Online Education Project implemented both online and offline activities, such as E-learning courses but also training events. The training event enabled the interaction between youth and other stakeholder entities, allowing for the exchange of ideas.Do: Keep both online and offline campaign messages coherent.
Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)M&E is vital to measure the effectiveness of a prevention of radicalization campaign. Consistently monitoring and evaluating the project throughout its time frames would allow for the collection of qualitative and quantitative that would not only help achieve the goals of the project, but also contribute to the trustworthiness of the campaign.Example: The CICERO project is one of the few to have published an evaluation report on their website. The report was based on their evaluation of content from other campaigns, as the CICERO team used this data to test the tools and metrics they had planned to use on their own project.
OutreachThe total number of people that received an impression of your post or ad on their screens or newsfeeds. When evaluation activities begin, the first thing to establish is the scale that the campaign achieved, in terms of the awareness achieved and the number of engagements on the online platform.   Two aspects that need to be identified are awareness and engagement: while the content of the project may reach a wide audience (for instance, videos on a YouTube channel can be viewed 500,000 times), levels of engagement may be considerably lower (the same videos may only be shared 55 times).   This outcome may be tied to whether the content is paid or organic content; while paid content may have a wider reach, engagement levels are usually low. The demographics of the audience also need to be taken into account.Do: Remember that successful YouTube engagement for young people relies mostly on organic content, as advertising cannot target those under 18.
AwarenessThere are two possible metrics to measure under awareness:   1) The number of people who saw or interacted with the campaign 2) The nature/ characteristics of the audience (gender, location, age, device type etc.).   These metrics ensure that the campaign is reaching its target audience. Reach, impressions and views can help measure awareness, however different social media measure these differently so it is important to familiarise the campaigners with the methods of different platforms (ex: Facebook measures views if the video runs on auto play for more than three seconds. YouTube measures views if the video is watched for more than 30 seconds).Do: Use social media algorithms to measure impressions, reach, impression frequency, views etc.
EngagementThis is defined as the volume and types of interaction between the TA, the campaigners and the campaign material.   Clicks are a good indicator as to how many people proactively engage with the campaign material. Other forms of engagement include likes and share, comments, instant messages and email responses.   The number and nature of these responses can be used to evaluate the progress of the project.Do: Use tools such as sentiment analysis software to analyse the emotions in the audience’s written responses (both positive and negative).
ImpactThe metrics of awareness and engagement will ultimately help measure impact, and whether or not the campaign has achieved its goals. However, this does have its limits, as it is a way of measuring in the short term. Attitudinal and behavioural impacts of individuals remain hard to measure without in person, long-term assessments.
SustainabilityPrevention of radicalization online campaigns should be sustained rather than sporadic. Extremist narratives tell a continuing – albeit highly manipulated – story. Counter-narrative campaigns implemented over a sustained period of time will more likely have a bigger impact in the long run than one-off efforts.Example: The Peer 2 Peer (P2P) project created a public private sector consortium to provide funding and support for the best of a P2P’s initiatives, products or tools that are worthy of investment and continuance.
Ethical risksEthical risks can comprise research ethics or put campaigners or audience members at risk if they are not properly considered. It is particularly important to consider the legal and cultural context in which the participants interact with the counter-radicalization campaign.Example: The Pericles project created five tools, platforms that favour a multi-agency approach and that can be used when one person suspects another of being vulnerable to online radicalisation. Depending on their relationship to the person (either being a parent, teacher, social worker etc.) they can use the platform to find guidance and create a custom approach to halt the radicalisation process.   Pericles noted the importance of involving stakeholders in the design of the tools and the process that would follow them, as to minimise the ethical risks related to discrimination, stigmatisation etc.Safety of personnel:   Do: Measure to what sort of risks personnel working on the counter-radicalization campaign may be exposed to, especially in situations of negative reactions from extremist groups or individuals.   Don’t: Publish personal information about personnel who are tied with the counter-radicalization campaign.   Data protection: Secure and ethical data protection and storage practises are important considering the sensitive nature of the project.   Do: Follow guidance on how to securely and ethically handle data. Secure the anonymity of the targeted audience – for instance, the reported version can rename the person as User 1.   Don’t: Disregard the anonymity of those engaging in project, for instance, using the real name or social media account name of the person who has engaged in any way with the project e.g. John Smith @smith3477


Doosje, B., Moghaddam, F., Kruglanski, A., de Wolf, A., Mann, L. and Feddes, A. (2016), ‘Terrorism, radicalization and de-radicalization’ Current Opinion in Psychology, 11, pp.79-84.

EXIT-Deutschland                       (2012), OPS // Trojan T-Shirt / EXIT-Deutschland, Available at:

Extreme Dialogue (n.a) Extreme Dialogue Facilitator Guide [online]. Available at:

IAHV (n.a), Beyond Violent Extremism and Armed Conflict: IAHV Trainings and programs, International Association for Human Values, [online]. Available at:

Nemr C., Nonninger L., Entenmann E., van Deventer F., van Ginkel B. (2018), It Takes a Village: An Action Agenda on the Role of Civil Society in the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Those Associated With and Affected by Violent Extremism, 23 August, [online]. Available at :

OCSE (2018), The Role of Civil Society in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism: A Guidebook for South-Eastern Europe, Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, [online]. Available at:

Pericles (n.a), About, [online]. Available at:

RAN (2019), Preventing Radicalisation to Terrorism and Violent Extremism: Approaches and Practices, Radicalisation Awareness Network, [online]. Available at:

Roy, O. (2016), Le djihad et la mort. Paris: Edition du Seuil

Sageman, M. (2004), Understanding terrorist networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Silke, A. (2008), Holy Warriors: Exploring the Psychological Processes of Jihadi Radicalization, European Journal of Criminology, 5(1), pp.99-123.

Steadman, L.E and Moix, B.      (2019), ‘How Civil Society Can Help Prevent Violence and Extremism and what the international community can do to support it’, United States Institute of Peace, 6 June, [online]. Available at:

Trip, S., Bora, C., Marian, M., Halmajan, A. and Drugas, M. (2019) ‘Psychological Mechanisms Involved in Radicalization and Extremism. A Rational Emotive  Behavioral Conceptualization’, Frontiers in Psychology, 6 March, [online]. Available at: