Google is aiming to put its extensive knowledge about human desires and experiences to use to combat violent extremism. The tech giant has a plan to combat one of the most prominent and proliferate terror groups, Islamic State (Isis), by ensuring that its numbers are culled. Google aims to prevent aspiring IS (Daesh) supporters from being swayed by the lure of the terror group's propaganda, to ultimately stop people from joining the ranks of the extremist group.
According to a report by Wired, Google-owned think tank Jigsaw has been developing a program called Redirect Method, which combines Google's search advertising algorithms and YouTube's video feature to identify and target wannabe IS hopefuls and subsequently deter them from joining the terror group's Armageddon-style proliferation of violence. Jigsaw, via its program, will aim to effectively negate the effects of IS propaganda-filled brainwashing content available online on those aspiring to join the ranks of the group.
"The Redirect Method is at its heart a targeted advertising campaign: Let's take these individuals who are vulnerable to ISIS' recruitment messaging and instead show them information that refutes it," said Jigsaw's head of research and development Yasmin Green. "This came out of an observation that there's a lot of online demand for ISIS material, but there are also a lot of credible organic voices online debunking their narratives."
How does it work?
Redirect Method, which is slated to be launched in a new phase later in September, will involve the placement of advertising in any search results for specific keywords and phrases, which according to Jigsaw's analysis, have previously been commonly used by people gravitating toward IS. The ads will display links to both Arabic and English YouTube channels.
Jigsaw pulled together specific pre-existing videos, after analysing and determining them to contain material that can effectively negate the terror group's brainwashing. The videos include testimonials from former IS members, imams denouncing the terror group's violence and corruption of Islam and secretly filmed clips showing the internal dysfunction within IS.
"We thought, what if the content exists already?" says Green. "We knew if it wasn't created explicitly for this purpose, it would be more authentic and therefore more compelling."
In September, Jigsaw is slated to relaunch the program, in collaboration with London-based Moonshot Countering Violent Extremism and US-based Gen Next Foundation. The program will target North American extremists and will apply its techniques on IS hopefuls as well as violent white supremacists.
Pilot tests successful
Jigsaw's early pilot program that took place earlier in the year exceeded expectations, with over 30,000 people in the span of two months being drawn to the anti-IS YouTube channels. Jigsaw also observed that people clicked on the program's ads three to four times more than any other typical ad campaign.
The program saw 1,700 keywords chosen, that would trigger Jigsaw's ads and lead users to the anti-IS playlists. Terms and phrases such as "Fatwa in Syria", names of prominent IS leaders and more were the primary focus for the team. The text on the ads, however, were more subtly designed. Instead of containing explicit anti-IS material, the text of the ads included terms like "Is ISIS Legitimate?" or "Want to Join ISIS?"
"Further down the funnel are the people who are sympathetic, maybe ideologically committed, maybe even already in the caliphate," says Green. "That's Jigsaw's focus."
Can it work?
According to Humera Khan, executive director of the Islamic deradicalisation group Muflehun, Jigsaw's program, while a good step forward, is far from being a comprehensive solution to the rising threat of global extremism. "This sounds like a good piece of the solution. But it's not all of it," she said. "If they can hook people in, can they keep them coming back with new and relevant content? That'll be important."
However, Green asserted that Redirect Method would not focus on tracking or identifying users, but would be primarily focusing on redirecting those attracted to IS. "These are people making decisions based on partial, bad information," Green asserted. "We can affect the problem of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State by arming individuals with more and better information."