Home Society & Culture Study Shows Social Media’s Influence on Islamist Militancy Among Bangladeshi Youth

Study Shows Social Media’s Influence on Islamist Militancy Among Bangladeshi Youth

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Social media, a tool for connectivity and community building, has a darker side, especially in countries like Bangladesh. The study reveals how these platforms, while not directly advocating for militancy, lay the groundwork for radical ideologies. They do so by subtly creating a moral backdrop that justifies violent extremism, especially among the youth.

A recent study explored how social media platforms are inadvertently fostering an environment conducive to Islamist militancy, especially in Bangladesh. The findings were published in the journal South Asian Survey.

Bangladesh, with its significant Muslim populace, is particularly susceptible to these influences. The study points out that the country’s youth are increasingly exposed to militant ideologies online. Interestingly, explicit calls to join militant groups are rare, but the ideological underpinnings are subtly woven into online narratives, making them more accessible and potentially appealing to impressionable minds.

Shudipta Sharma, a PhD candidate at Bowling Green State University, who has conducted extensive research in this area, said: “As a communication scholar deeply invested in issues with direct implications for our daily lives, I have been drawn to the complex phenomenon of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh. This challenge has persisted since the 1970s and led to numerous violent incidents in recent years.”

He also highlighted the role of social media: “Recognising the critical discussions around the role of new communication technologies, particularly social media, in facilitating Islamist militancy, I embarked on a study to shed light on this area. This research analysed content from public ‘Islamic’ Facebook groups and found that despite Facebook’s community policies against extremism, the narratives within these groups bear a striking resemblance to those of Islamist militants.”

The content on social media does not outright promote militancy. Instead, it often revolves around religious teachings, discussions on Islamic history, and the sufferings of Muslims globally. This content, while appearing benign, gradually builds a narrative that can justify extremist viewpoints and actions.

Sharma elaborates on this subtle influence: “The findings suggest that while explicit calls to jihad or violence are rare, these ‘Islamic’ Facebook groups contribute to laying a moral groundwork for militant Islamist ideology and justifying violent extremism. Extremists cleverly manipulate Islamic tenets to mask their radical activities, often sharing benign Islamic content to recruit followers subtly.”

Young individuals, particularly those in their late teens and early twenties, form the primary audience for these narratives. The study suggests that the lack of direct militant recruitment online does not diminish the potential of these platforms to influence young minds towards radical ideologies.

The connection between online and real-life actions, according to Sharma, is not straightforward. “The direct correlation between online radicalization and real-life violent actions remains to be definitively established. However, there’s an evident trend of young individuals being influenced towards violent extremism via social media.”

One of the key findings of the study is the uncertainty surrounding the direct impact of online radicalisation on real-life militant actions. While there’s clear evidence of social media’s role in shaping ideologies, translating these online interactions into physical acts of militancy remains a complex and less understood phenomenon.

The findings underscore the need for targeted government interventions and policy formulations. It’s imperative to understand and address the nuanced ways in which social media can influence thought processes, especially among youth. Strategies for digital literacy, critical thinking, and counter-narratives are essential in combating the subtle indoctrination taking place online.

Sharma concludes with a call to action: “This insight is crucial for policymakers, aiding in the development of informed de-radicalisation strategies. The study underscores the importance of creating a societal environment that’s less hospitable to extremist ideologies. It calls for scholars, civic-social organisations, and influential writers to engage actively on social media, crafting narratives that counteract extremism and enhance public awareness.”

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