Extremism can take many forms (see our blogs on Hate Crime and Extremist Behaviour and Language). Spreading extremist propaganda has become more sophisticated since the world became more connected through the internet and social media.
Today, word search software, often called “anti-radicalisation software”, can be utilised to identify those using certain words and phrases associated with extremist behaviour.
Responsibilities under Prevent
The government’s approach to combating extremism is set out in the Prevent framework (see our blog on What Is ‘Prevent’ and Why Does It Exist?). Organisations such as schools, colleges and training providers have a legal duty under ‘Prevent’ to “have due regard to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
This includes teaching those in their care about different kinds of extremism and reporting any concerns they have about anyone considered vulnerable.
Organisations have several ways of identifying who this might be (see our blog: Prevent: Who Is Vulnerable?), and one of them is the use of word search software.
How does word search software work?
Word search software allows organisations to search through a computer server or database to see whether people using their computers have searched for information relating to extremism and terrorist organisations.
The key words range from the names of organisations – such as jihadi terrorist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups – to everyday words that might be associated with terrorism, such as “attack”, “martyr” or “suicide”.
Screenshots of words and phrases searched for can be taken by those in authority (teachers, tutors) as evidence.
Where does the list of key words come from?
The government provides the key words on a list that is updated every six months (click this link to download the current list).
Why is word search software being used in educational facilities?
The focus is said to be identifying vulnerable children and young adults, whether they are at risk now or may be at risk in the future.
Importantly, the approach is intended as an early-warning system to allow intervention rather than a route into criminalising children.
What happens if word search software identifies words on the list?
The risk to the individual who has searched for these terms will be assessed and they will be given the support and education required to prevent them becoming radicalised.
Word search software may prove a useful tool in identifying children and young people vulnerable to extremist views. However, it’s important to remember that while educators have a legal responsibility under the Prevent strategy, all action taken should be appropriate, proportionate and based on carefully assessed evidence of genuine risk.
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