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Counter Terrorism Police warn of lockdown online risks

Counter Terrorism Policing North East are warning the public of potential online dangers, as people increase their use of online media during the coronavirus lockdown.

Isolation measures could place vulnerable people at an increased risk of radicalisation, after the virus pandemic inevitably provokes people to spend more time online and restricts their access to support services.

The Prevent Programme remains a vital part of cross-government efforts to safeguard vulnerable people from extremist influences across all ideologies. However, police have seen a significant decline in referrals since the lockdown and are concerned vulnerable people may slip through the cracks because they are fewer people to spot the early signs of radicalisation, or because people don’t know how to access the support that they need.

The police are now asking parents, friends and family to be more aware of what young or vulnerable people in their care are looking at online and what to do if they are worried someone they know is being radicalised. It is believed that young people are among those who have lost a significant part of their support network following the closure of schools and higher education establishments and some may be finding it difficult to adjust to current restrictions and being away from friends.

Detective Superintendent Matthew Davison said: “The closure of schools, colleges and universities, in addition to the loss of sports clubs and youth centres, means that many young people have lost valuable support from friends, teachers and mentors, at a time when they need it most.

“It is a time of great uncertainty for all of us and as the virus reduces our interaction with the outside world it is not surprising we are turning to the online space to explore our concerns and connect with others. We know that extremist groups across different ideologies are active in the same space and are looking to capitalise on the uncertainty created by the pandemic to promote disinformation, fear and hate. The current situation presents a unique opportunity for them to exploit this anxiety in an attempt to further their objectives and attract new followers.”

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