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Just sharing – The critical role of friends in networks for countering violent extremism: toward a theory of vicarious help-seeking

Behavioral_Sciences_of_Terrorism_and_Political_Aggression_148_214_sTo cite this article: Michael J. Williams, John G. Horgan & William P. Evans (2015): The critical role of friends in networks for countering violent extremism: toward a theory of vicarious help-seeking, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, DOI: 10.1080/19434472.2015.1101147

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Who would be the first to notice, and able to intervene, with individuals considering acts of violent extremism? Study 1 found evidence that those best positioned to notice early signs of individuals considering acts of violent extremism might be those individuals’ friends: perhaps more so than school counselors, clergy, or family members. Furthermore, participants indicated that the predominant reason underlying individuals’ reluctance to reach out to countering violent extremism (CVE)-relevant service providers was fear of the potential repercussions for such actions. Additionally, that fear generalized not only to a reluctance to reach out to law enforcement agencies, but also to others within prospective CVE-relevant networks (i.e. religious officials, or family members). An option for addressing such reluctance (via an evidence-based, anonymous, texting-oriented crisis hotline for associate-gatekeepers) is discussed. Given that reluctance, what factors might affect individuals’ willingness to intervene in CVE contexts? Study 2 revealed two extensions to the bystander intervention model [Darley, J., & Latane´, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(4), 377– 383], necessary for it to be applied more accurately, and usefully, to CVE contexts. Specifically, individuals’ reluctance to dissuade their friends or family members from committing violence appeared to be moderated by their level of fear that doing so might damage their relationships with them. Furthermore, there was evidence that individuals’ level of personal identification with friends or family members might reduce both their willingness to intervene, and their ability to recognize violent extremism in the making.


About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at


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