Re-taking the Internet, ISIS's recruitment haven

This blog is part of a series published on WEFLIVE from young leaders in the One Young World community who are addressing issues across the world relating to the World Economic Forum 2017 theme of 'Responsive and Responsible Leadership'. 

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Millennials are empowered, educated and with unparalleled opportunities before them. No generation in history has enjoyed such explosive connectivity and cultural cross-pollination. Yet the data shows that young people are the unhappiest they have ever been in the history of mankind.

This seems paradoxical, especially in an age where the traditional woes of the world seem to be abating. As the best-selling author Professor Yuval Noah Harari points out: famine, plague and war, though ongoing, are now no longer unavoidable and inexplicable tragedies. Connectivity and technological innovation has dramatically reduced the impact of these traditional blights on the world. You are more likely to die of obesity than starvation, of suicide than war. The world has never had it so good. Millennials, at least on paper, should be the primary beneficiaries.

And yet, young people are being lost in the torrents of globalisation which have allowed for such an age of relative harmony. In Nigeria in 2000, there were around 30,000 phones. By 2012, there were over 113 million. Smartphone users have surged from less than 50 million in 2005 to more than 2.5 billion today. Every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. With the explosion of connectivity, so came the erosion of traditional ideas of identity. These ideas, perpetuated by an older generation that still holds most of the power in the world, are perhaps the cause of some of the malaise felt by Millennials.

We are still yet to fully grasp the impact connectivity is having on Millennials, and the ability of that generation to communicate meaningfully has not matched its ability to connect.

This is one reason why extremism and terrorism has found such root in the social networks of young Millennials. When there is information saturation and a demand for instant emotional gratification, extremist narratives and opportunities to join an insurgency of any type offer a convenient way to sate this desire. Extremism appears to offer Millennials the chance to abdicate the idea of complexity in life and submit in totality to a binary construct of the world.

As leaders, we have to get our generation talking, confronting difficult questions about identity, and articulating a vision of the future we want to occupy. And if we are to live in peace and security, that needs to be done more effectively than the rival vision offered by extremists. We need compelling narratives that are both global, and hyper local, and resonate with fellow Millennials, making the complexities that make the world beautiful tangible and accessible to the vast majority of our generation who risk getting left behind.

We need to listen to what Millennials want, be that in the workplace, in communities, or online and then build this into our various ecologies. Young people are empowered, engaged and willing to shape the world - we just need to truly integrate them into our designs and not in a token fashion.

This is where programs like Extremely Together can make all the difference. We need to use the lingua franca of the digital age and young people, to effectively defeat extremist narratives as a generation, all around the world. The ten diverse yet extremely together young leaders in this initiative are trailblazing, showing the value of connectivity, the thrill of complexity and the power, which if channelled correctly, can enable young people to make a positive difference.

Jonathan Russell is Quilliam’s Head of Policy, where he is responsible for several of Quilliam’s programmes, its relations with policymakers, providing evidence-based policy advice, and managing our external communications. Jonathan is also the Programme Coordinator for Extremely Together, a programme run in partnership with the Kofi Annan Foundation, the European Commission and One Young World, in order to provide a platform for young people to come together against violent extremism.