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Influence of the Media in Youth in Conflict Zones

Writer: Renata Daou

Editors: Adelyne, Tonwaan

Graphic Designer: Ileana Cue

There are about 1.8 billion children currently living in conflict zones. The top three regions are Asia, with 195 million children, Africa, with 152 million, and the Middle East, with 35 million in conflict zones. India is the country with the most conflict-affected children (Warshel, 2021). Whilst the media can be useful in raising awareness of the impacts of conflict on children, it can also influence the ideologies, opinions, and behaviors of children and young adults.

Radicalization is the process by which an individual or group comes to adopt increasingly radical views of a political, social, or religious status quo. These radical views can lead to terrorism, which accounts for 0.05% of the deaths around the world. It is considered, in many literature pieces, a “weapon of the weak” for groups that don’t have as much power to fight using legitimate means.

However, it can happen that the media consumed in these conflict zones can influence them to lean towards radicalist or even extremist groups, even though it is not common. In a study done by Dr. Yael Warshel, it was found that in reality, most Gaza-based Palestinian refugee children watched TV shows like Tom and Jerry. Their parents, in fact, used television to protect their children from occurring conflicts, from the Israeli military, and to prevent the children from joining Palestinian militant organizations. Similarly, Israeli parents did the same thing and prevented their children from joining neighborhood crime. (Warshel, 2021). In addition, it was also found that Palestinian children would negotiate the TV channel options with their parents and actively chose global channels instead of the local Palestinian ones (Warshel, 2012).

However, when radicalization does happen, people typically join terrorist groups due to a need to belong and to find social connections with other members (Abrahms, 2015). In her book, “Talking to Terrorists: Understanding the Psycho-Social Motivations of Militant Jihadi Terrorists, Mass Hostage Takers, Suicide Bombers & ‘Martyrs”, author Anne Speckhard discusses the role of the media in the radicalization of Palestinian people in conflict areas. She travels through the West Bank, interviewing people related to suicide bombers, as well as people who have committed such attacks to understand their motives and reasonings. After Speckhard interviews the widowed wife of Tayseer, a suicide terrorist, and his brother, Naji, she finds more about how radicalization happens with their story. In one of her interviews, a mother explained how she prayed to Allah for her children to become Shaheed (a Muslim martyr, which is someone who sought their own death while following their beliefs). This has apparently become one of the reasons behind becoming a suicide terrorist–to display martyrdom, a holy act that promises Paradise by following the way of God.

The Palestine Authority, while airing such interviews, shows its support for suicide operations. By glorifying the martyrs and honoring the parents, it continues to show support for suicide operations (Speckhard, 2012, p. 399). The reason why the media is so influential is because of its ability to appeal to a massive audience, acting as an instigator of beliefs, opinions, and actions. Although not always so, it is capable of radicalizing the population and instigating collective violence (Mendel. N.d.). And this works. While interviewing girls in the Hasharon Prison, Speckhard interviewed a girl named Omaia, who was charged with an attempted suicide attack in Israel. Many of the motivations she listed involved events that she only saw on television, such as the invasion in Jenin and bodies killed in Gaza, particularly one of a baby girl (Speckhard, 2012, p. 226).

In Western countries, there has been both the growth of online radicalization as well as independent radicals acting on the ideologies of such terrorist groups. These two factors further facilitate the involvement of young people in extremist actions. With the growth of online radicalization, it becomes easier and more convenient for children and young adults to join terrorist movements, as there is no location or complex planning involved (Pandith, 2021). As young people, especially Gen Z, are constantly online on social media, it is easier for them to be exposed to these extremist ideologies (Pandith, 2021).

Counterterrorism activities and media literacy, as well as the creation of a network of good influences for youths, may be the best solutions to keep them out of radicalization. In an article by Jordan Levinson, the author suggests Cultivation Theory and how exposure to media helps to shape thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors. This means that the people consuming the content tend to adopt the assumptions and beliefs in the media (Gerbner & Gross, 1976). Because children are still undergoing socialization and are easily affected by outside influences, they become more vulnerable to what is put out in the media. They assume what they see in the media is reality and use it to create their beliefs about themselves and others (Levinson, 2020). The media industry holds great power over how children see and shape their thoughts and reality. Filling the media with good role models and diverse characters is fundamental to the prevention of extremism and ensures that they have strong role models that they can relate to and look up to.

If you are interested in learning more about the subject of children, media, and conflict zones, consider reading Dr Yael Warshel’s article: “Problematizing the variable of conflict to address children, media, and conflict.” Dr. Warshel is an assistant professor of telecommunications at Rock Ethics Institute core faculty, and affiliated faculty of Middle Eastern studies at Pennsylvania State University.




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