Extremists infiltrating online and gaming platforms to recruit young Australians

Globally, AFP is aware of extremists who have sought out new supporters online to coerce them into undertaking violent extremism for their cause.

The AFP is urging parents and guardians to be mindful of who their children are interacting with online this holiday season, as extremists continue their attempts to recruit young people through popular chat and online forums including gaming platforms.

In the last two years, the AFP and our partners have experienced an increase in young people being investigated across several Australian state and territory jurisdictions, with individuals as young as 12 years of age adopting violent extremist ideologies.

The AFP is aware of groups and individuals with Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism (IMVE) and Religiously Motivated Violent Extremism (RMVE) engaging with children online.

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The AFP has observed extremists using popular online chats and other forums to recruit youth, with a recent increase in the use of gaming platforms, with some extremists creating their own platforms to disseminate propaganda, network, recruit and generate funds online.

Some of the games created by extremists feature virtual worlds where players must adhere to the rules and objectives of the simulation fitting a particular extremist ideological narrative.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Krissy Barrett said the warning to parents and guardians was timely as the holiday season approached, with many young people likely to receive technology-based gifts that enable online engagement through chats and gaming in addition to a having a significant amount of free time to engage with these platforms over this period.

“With more than 3.22 billion active gamers online around the world, these extremists are attempting to target a significant part of the global population to spread their views and propaganda with the aim of recruiting young people across popular platforms and games with the aim of encouraging them to adopt an extremist or radicalised view.”

“These extremist groups and individuals are using these gaming and online platforms as a mode to transmit violent material and propaganda, across a range of extremist ideologies,” Assistant Commissioner Barrett said.

Assistant Commissioner Barrett said the AFP have observed IMVE and RMVE individuals and groups were creating their own bespoke digital games and platforms to access potential recruit supporters.

“The AFP is aware that some of these extremists are building and releasing games that really are just a trojan horse to promote their worldview, blurring the reality of young users with the aim to radicalise them,” she said.

“We know that gaming and online chat and other platforms are being infiltrated by extremists so we are urging parents and guardians to keep a close watch on who your children may be engaging with online.”

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Assistant Commissioner Barrett said the Joint Counter Terrorism Teams, located in each capital city and comprised of the AFP, state and territory police, ASIO and in NSW, the NSW Crime Commission, are working to prevent harm by extremists in our communities. 

“The AFP, together with our law enforcement partners across Australia and around the world, are collaborating to identify and unmask those extremists hiding behind the keyboard and attempting to solicit support and numbers for their violent and harmful causes,” said she said.

“We are urging anyone with information relating to concerning activity online to please come forward and help us keep our young people safe.”

Globally, AFP is aware of extremists who have sought out new supporters online to coerce them into undertaking violent extremism for their cause.

In recent years, extremists have created violent content within popular gaming platforms, including simulations depicting a recreation of the 2019 Christchurch terrorist attacks, aiming to expose gamers to violent ideologies, normalise violence and blur the reality of users, allowing them to undertake criminal acts within the game.

The AFP is aware of instances where individuals have re-created or depicted historical scenarios, related to their ideology in online gaming platforms. For example, we have seen on the gaming platform Roblox:

  • scenes from Nazi Germany including Nazi concentration camps
  • Chinese Communist re-education camps for Muslims
  • Islamic State style conflict zones and propaganda.

Another example of the infiltration of gaming platforms to push a political or ideological cause, is the recent use of Roblox (that has more than 65 million users on a daily basis with approximately 45% being 12 years of age or under) to host pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israel gatherings and rallies. In some instances, some players have resorted to violent means, attacking users with opposing views through the gaming platform.

When the online extremist community encourages and validates the young person, their interests, and their skills, it can become socially and emotionally reinforcing. Some commonalities that have been identified in recent investigations include diagnosis of a neuro-diverse or mental health condition, being raised in a disruptive, unstable or harmful environment, and experiencing social problems throughout their school life.

What should parents be looking out for (behavioural indicators of radicalisation)

Parents need to consider observing and interpreting their children’s behaviour online, like they do in the physical world. Signs to look out for include:

  • Distancing themselves from their usual friends and family members
  • An increase in the extremist nature of their rhetoric, or propaganda they propagate
  • Your child using hateful or emotionally-charged language
  • Developing a fixation on conspiracy theories or contentious social issues
  • Displaying extreme reactions to certain news or politics
  • Spending increasing amounts of time in fringe forums on the internet.

Steps for parents to take if their children are being exposed to radicalised material

  • Be aware of what they are doing in the online world, and help steer them toward mainstream sources of factual information, rather than forums and chat groups on the fringe of the Internet
  • Talk to your local police or the AFP – a lot of police have community engagement teams, or can direct you to people with experience in dealing with people holding extremist views
  • Speak to your children regularly about their online activities and interactions
  • Supervise your children – know what your child is doing online, who they are interacting with and what platforms, apps or games they are using
  • Be approachable if your child needs help – coming forward isn’t always easy and your child may feel reluctant to tell you about online issues if they believe they will be punished or have their devices taken away. This also makes children more secretive about device use and at greater risk of exploitation
  • Check privacy settings – we recommend you research and understand app settings, including privacy settings. This could include turning off location settings, setting profiles to private, or turning off chat functions
  • Know how to report an incident – if something goes wrong online, it is critical your child is supported. You need to know how to take action and report. If you think a child is in immediate danger call Triple Zero (000) or your local police (131 444). If you prefer to report anonymously, you can visit Crime Stoppers or call their toll free number 1800 333 000.

If anyone has any information or concerns about extremists engaging with their children online we urge them to take action and report. If you think a child is in immediate danger call Triple Zero (000) or your local police (131 444).

If you prefer to report anonymously, you can visit Crime Stoppers or call their toll-free number 1800 333 000.

Anyone with information about extremist activity or possible threats to the community should come forward, no matter how small or insignificant you think the information may be. The National Security Hotline is 1800 123 400.

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