The rise of online radicalization? (Pt.2)

This is the second installment in a two-part series. 

In the first part of the series, I discussed with several professors the term “online radicalization” used in reference to the Ohio State terrorist attack by Rep. Adam Schiff, head of the House of Intelligence Committee. He said that Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the attacker, was radicalized online by watching a series of videos. Since, as Schiff said, there was no clear indication Artan was connected to or in communication with any terrorist group, it is important to understand what the term “online radicalization” actually means. 

This week I interviewed more professors from different disciplines to try to grasp and understand the concept. 

John Trickle, a history professor in the fine and performing arts, said that online radicalization is basically “a misinterpretation of the ideology in which they’re espousing.” He said the problem with being online is that it is unfiltered and has no external verification. “Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true,” Trickle said. There are also ways the content can be manipulated to include biased information. 

Trickle also said that the idea of radicalization is not new. He gives an example of Jan Hus, a 15th-century reformer, who was burned at the stake for thinking that everyone should have a Bible translated into English. Trickle said Islamic radicalizations are not new and can see that in the 7th century when the Islamic Moors invaded Spain. 

World religions professor Jon Ewing said radicalization is a cry for significance. “It’s a way to make you significant in a very dramatic way,” he said. “They hook up with a cause, or with at least something they think is a significant cause and they do things like shooting or bombings.” 

He also said these cases are all unique. Ewing said, “Online, even things that are not necessarily the case or aren’t true; they become true simply because they get picked up and are circulated enough.” He said, “If something has currency and gets repeated repeatedly throughout social media sites, then people will simply point to that and say, ‘Well, I read this site and that’s the case.’ It’s a difficult phenomenon and hard to really identify it.” 

Dr. Jennifer Jones, psychology professor at Richland, said what we consume, mediawise or elsewhere, obviously affects our perception and what we think of the world. In the social learning theory of Banduras research, it says we learn behavior from other, model them and come up with more complex forms of the behavior. 

In relation to the Bobo Doll Experiment where children watch violent acts committed to the doll, the children express the same type of violence and sometimes create new ways to hurt the doll. 

“So we pick up a lot from what we see,” Jones said. Although Jones said that in this case Artan watched a lot of videos and then suddenly attacked students, it may not have been the “culprit for his behavior.” Jones said by watching the videos it might have pumped him up or got him more on the bandwagon. 

Jones said most likely something was off or wrong with him. “He might have been more susceptible to those ideas,” she said.  “You’re not going to get an average Joe Person and view those things to that extreme. It could be mental health issues and that it was not just the video. Something else was going on, but with this situation we clearly do not know.”