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Can You Recognize the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing? Explaining Youth’s Contact With Extremist (Online) Messages and Their Ability to Recognize Them

Sat, May 27, 12:30 to 13:45, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 5, Cobalt 500


In recent years, Islamist and right-wing extremists have stepped up their efforts to contact and recruit adolescents via social media. Youth and young adults are considered to be especially vulnerable to online-propaganda because (a) they intensively use social media and therefore can be easily reached and (b) they often lack skills to recognize extremist propaganda that uses camouflage or “wolf in sheep’s clothing”-tactics. Therefore, youths may be drawn into extremist communication without immediately recognizing. However, so far we do not know much empirically about if and how youths perceive and recognize extremist content online. This paper addresses these deficits and presents first results of a representative survey among German youths 14-19 years old (N=1000) focusing on contact and perception of extremist messages. The mediating role of (1) media literacy, (2) political knowledge, and (3) further predispositions is investigated and conclusions about the impact of online propaganda are drawn.