The Internet has become a prime means of communication worldwide and this unprecedented global reach – combined with the difficulty in tracking communications – makes it an ideal tool for extremists to repackage old hatred, raise funds, and recruit members. As the Internet has grown, the quantity and sophistication of extremist websites has increased proportionately.
Radicalization refers to the process by which people come to believe that violence against others and even oneself is justified in defense of their own group. Not everyone who is involved in a group is necessarily radicalized to the same degree; in fact, even within a hate group only a small number of people may be radicalized to the point where they are ready to advocate and commit violence.
The Internet has been rightly hailed as a groundbreaking interactive marketplace of ideas where anyone with the right hardware and software can set up a cyber-stall. It has become an essential means for people to access information and services but the downside of this unparalleled information exchange is that, alongside its many valuable resources, the Net also offers a host of offensive materials – including hateful content – that attempt to inflame public opinion against certain groups of people.
Fong , Guichard  and Hope , among others, have pointed out that current protocols for dealing with online hate have proven inadequate at managing hateful content and providing educational opportunities, largely because they have failed in adequately capturing the broad scope and complicated, disputed nature of online hate. Criminal legislation and formal policies have had limited success in addressing the complex issues related to crime in an online context and hate crime in general.
In e-Parenting Tutorial: Keeping up with your kids’ online activities, Alice, a witty and cyber-savvy mom, takes parents on a tour of the many different Web environments and activities that are popular with children and youth.
Despite all of the concerns about what youth are doing with digital media, MediaSmarts’ study Young Canadians in a Wired World (YCWW) has found that not only are most kids not getting in trouble online, they’re often being actively kind and thoughtful towards people they know.
As we grow, we pass through distinct stages of moral development in which our ethical thinking is based on different principles. The second stage in learning ethics is becoming aware of rules that either punish or reward us for doing something: younger children are most motivated by a fear of being punished for bad behaviour, but become more concerned with the rewards of good behaviour as they get older.
Empathy is at the heart of ethics. In order to develop a sense of right and wrong that goes past just being afraid of punishment or hoping for a reward, we have to be able to put ourselves in another person’s shoes.
It’s important to make young people aware of the laws that apply to what they do online, as well as to have household rules that cover online behaviour. For example, MediaSmarts’ YCWW research has found that students who have rules in the home relating to various web activities are less likely to engage in risky online behaviour , and another study has found a strong association between kids visiting websites mentioned in ads and an absence of household rules on Internet use .
Though we sometimes talk about the online world as being “virtual reality,” the things we do there can have real consequences. When we’re using the same screen to talk to our friends that we use to kill aliens or when we can’t see the people we’re hurting, robbing or copying from, it’s easy to forget that what we do online matters. This section looks at some of the reasons why youth might behave differently online than they do offline and strategies for getting them to see the online world through an ethical lens.