Virtual inclusion: Tackling hate and extremism in the UK using virtual reality technology

Research Institution / Organisation

The Open University

In Collaboration With

Thames Valley Police

Principal Researcher

Dr Peter Bloom

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

June 2017

Research Context

​Virtual (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are moving into the mainstream. These advances create new opportunities and threats. Extremist organisations have shown themselves to be early adopters of new technology: the so-called ‘Hollywood’ propaganda of Islamic State and the use of social media by far-Right groups in the past years, are testament to this. Daniel Wagner, author of the book Virtual Terror, warns ‘The virtual world is in some ways more compelling than the real world, because storylines can be artfully crafted to be maximally appealing, while omitting anything that may be perceived of as negative.’

Fresh approaches to CVE are needed. This project thus seeks to tackle the problem of ‘virtual extremism’. It would do so by using virtual technology to promote social inclusion and tolerance. There is widespread agreement among policy makers that getting ahead of extremist use of new technology is vital.

Much effort has been put into the pro-active use of new technologies for spreading alternative values that challenge hatred such as the use by police of social media tracking to early identify potential extremists to the creation of the online network ‘Against Violent Extremism‘ powered by Google Ideas. Only in the past year has virtual technology been conceived as a tool for explicitly confronting issues of hate and extremism (see Afzal, 2017). We would join these efforts by developing a ground breaking virtual reality technology educational resource for tackling hate and extremism head on - simultaneously reducing its influence in real life communities and lessening its appeal as a potential hi-tech recruitment method. In particular we would pilot this technology and make it available to schools and the wider public as an open access educational resource.

Research Methodology

  • ​Create three immersive 3-D experiences for young people based on the ongoing `virtual field trips' research programme. Organise a one day workshop with community leaders, the police and CVE practitioners including the ISD to design `virtual field trips' that would allow white British young people to experience the challenges faced by young people in discriminated communities as well as the positive aspects of their culture.
  • Work with the police and ISD to identify communities whose young people would most benefit from these virtual interventions- drawing upon their diverse expertise and community contacts.
  • Present these virtual field trips to young people in selected schools. After allowing them to experience these `virtual field trips' we would then hold a follow up `critical reflection' session to explore how these virtual experiences impacted their attitudes about hate and extremism.
  • Present these virtual field trips to the general public within these communities through exhibiting them for free in the town centre for 2 hours.
  • Conduct in-depth interviews with four students from each of the three locations we visited to better understand how we can help to create `virtual anti-hate champions' in these communities among young people.
  • Write up and promote the findings.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

December 2019
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