Over the past years, we have seen a shift from the position that so-called Lone Wolves – extremists having radicalized without much interactive or physical contact to human incubators – do not exist, to the concession that a life situation and personality of a would-be attacker, paired with ideological input, can cause violent extremism.
Ideological input can be procured through books. But the medium par excellence in our time is the internet with its partly very dangerous content. On the internet, you can find most of what you may or may not be looking for. Some of the content, e.g. on social media, is posted with the clear intention to stir up people.
What is so problematic about Lone Wolves is that without observable contact to human incubators, and without would-be extremists having reacted online to social media posts or other content – except for the fact that it was consumed -, instances of violent extremism are hardly discernable before they occur. Such instances cannot be blamed on law enforcement. However, sooner or later, there will have to be legal provisions to limit viral online content not covered by the freedom of expression.
It is true that there is always the element of human interaction in the totality of a person’s life, as we are not Caspar Hausers. However, we can see more and more clearly from recent events that abstract, less plastic aspects such as influences and triggers from the internet can and do play a major role in radicalization. Yes, they are more abstract. But that does not make them less relevant.
Admittedly, those of us having grown up before the internet will perceive an artificial divide between the online and the unconnected world. This divide, in fact, is becoming more and more blurred. The internet is a growingly important part of the real world.
Still, attackers have managed to hide behind their screens to commit despicable acts. Hence the necessity of companies regulating problematic content.
Thorsten Koch, MA, PgDip