Children as young as ten taught how to spot radicalisation
Mock social media site helps school children identify grooming by fanatics
School children as young as ten are being taught how to spot radicalisation in their friends through a police scheme using a Facebook-style website.
A social media site belonging to a fictional character known as “Zak” helps youngsters identify whether they or their friends are being groomed by fanatics.
Police hope the programme will also help prevent teenagers being brainwashed in to travelling to Syria to fight.
It has been trialled with 30 schools in Kent including a number of junior schools.
On the site, pupils are presented with various scenarios based on postings Zak has made and asked to make judgements about whether he could be at risk and is vulnerable to radicalisation.
One posting compares images of fireworks on Bonfire Night to making “frag grenades” while another criticises American presence in Muslim countries.
A Kent Police spokesman said the pilots have already led to an increase in referrals to them relating to concerns about individuals.
It is part of a renewed drive to combat radicalisations, especially by Islamist fanatics, in the wake of the murder of soldier Lee Rigby in south east London last year.
The Government is particularly concerns over the scale and potential for radicalisation over the Internet and through social media sites.
Toni Roullier, a Kent Police officer working with the Government’s counter-terrorism Prevent programme, said: “Young children can be vulnerable and this helps them explore how the radicalisation process works, the signs to be aware of and most importantly, what to do if you see those signs.
“It is important that friends of vulnerable people report concerns not to get them arrested but to help safeguard them.”
Joe Jardine-Viner, assistant head teacher of Tonbridge Grammar School, said his pupils had responded positively to Zak.
“There was something intriguing to them about looking at somebody else’s media profile,” he said.
“It is important that people understand the world in which they live. Students are aware of extremist groups even if the may not have direct experience of them.
“Part of our job is to prepare them for the world they live in.”
Kent Police says it aimed to encourage all schools to use Zak as a focus for pupils to discuss other issues, such as online grooming and bullying.