Understanding and Combatting Radicalisation: Causes, Consequences, and Countermeasures


What is radicalisation?

Radicalisation is a process by which an individual or group becomes increasingly extreme in their beliefs, often to the point of advocating for or engaging in violent actions. This occurs in many different contexts and is driven by a variety of factors, including political, social, economic, and psychological factors. A viewpoint that is considered “Extreme” will vary by individual, and a healthy society should be able to incorporate a wide variety of viewpoints. Radicalisation becomes a problem when it results in violence or further harm against others. It can affect individuals of any age, race, or religion, and can occur in both online and offline environments. The process can also involve the adoption of extreme ideologies, such as (religious) fundamentalism, racism, or nationalism, as well as the promotion of violent or extremist causes, such as terrorism or insurgency.

Combatting Radicalization. Arms raised in protest. Group of protestors fists raised up in the air.

The radicalisation of an individual is a complex process that is not fully understood, it is often difficult to predict who will become radicalised or why. There is no single road to radicalisation as multiple factors may trigger or contribute to the process, and not all radicalisation leads to violence. However, research has identified some common risk factors that may increase an individual’s likelihood of becoming radicalised, such as exposure to extremist ideology or propaganda, social isolation, and a sense of injustice or grievance.

Why is radicalisation a problem in society?

Radicalisation is a problem in society when it leads to violence, terrorism, and other forms of harm to individuals and society as a whole in both online and offline environments. Online radicalisation can lead to individuals taking action offline, such as the recent attack on the Kurdish center in Paris. Furthermore, it can contribute to social division and conflict, as individuals who have become radicalised can view those who do not share their beliefs as their enemies. The polarisation of society plays a large role in the growth of distrust of existing institutions, as radicalised individuals may come to see the authorities as the ‘other’ against which they have to fight.

Radicalisation can therefore lead to the erosion of democratic values and the rule of law, as those who have become radicalised may be willing to use violence and other extreme means to achieve their goals, which can undermine the rule of law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. They may also seek to overthrow democratically-elected governments or undermine democratic institutions, such as the media and the judicial system. Furthermore, radicalisation can lead to the erosion of democratic values, such as tolerance, pluralism, and respect for human rights, as people may be willing to advocate for or engage in actions that violate these values.

Existing Counter Radicalisation Strategies?

There are a number of strategies that can be effective in countering radicalisation and preventing individuals from becoming radicalised. Preventive measures are designed to reduce the risk, by addressing the root causes that makes individuals vulnerable to radicalisation in the first place. These measures can include:

  • 1

    Promoting social cohesion and inclusivity: By creating a sense of belonging and promoting tolerance and respect for diversity, communities can be less susceptible to radicalisation.

  • 2

    Providing education and employment opportunities: By providing individuals with the skills and resources they need to succeed, communities can reduce the risk of radicalisation.

  • 3

    Addressing grievances and conflicts: By addressing the issues and conflicts that may drive radicalisation, such as poverty, discrimination, or injustice, communities can reduce the risk of radicalisation.

It is important to note that no single strategy is likely to be effective in all cases, and a comprehensive approach that combines different strategies may be most effective in countering radicalisation. At Tilt we developed another strategy towards countering radicalisation in the form of a gamified intervention.

Our strategy: Gamified Intervention

Tilt developed Radicalise as a serious game which provides a preventative vaccination against radicalisation. The game supplements existing counter radicalisation strategies and empowers users to spot the techniques that radicalist recruiters may use against them. In the game players play as a recruiter for a fictitious extremist organisation. As they recruit a fictional person the player learns key psychological techniques real recruiters use to target people including: identifying the target, isolating the target and activating a target by winning their trust.

We introduce our players to manipulative techniques in the fictional world of the game so that our players can build “mental antibodies” against radicalist recruitment in the real world. After playing the game people recognise recruitment techniques faster when confronted by them in real life. This is called pre-bunking, because it works via prevention instead of tackling the issue after the fact.

The prototype of the game has been researched by the Social Decision Making Lab of the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Nudge Lebanon and B4Development. This research has shown that after playing this game the participants had significantly improved their ability to (1) recognise manipulative messages and (2) identify potentially vulnerable individuals. The results of this research have been peer-reviewed and approved for publication in the academic journal Behavioural Public Policy.

What does Tilt provide?

The approach to radicalisation should be multidisciplinary, as the process of radicalisation is not singular either.

Read more about our intervention here.