Google’s a bit of an indispensable tool at most jobs. If you’re software engineer, you probably use it to look up syntaxes and functions. If you’re a lawyer, you use it to look up old cases. But there’s another class of people that are regularly using Google –would-be terrorists.
Google discovered that lots of people were getting radicalized by viewing pro-ISIS content online. ISIS might be a rough, chaotic organization that operates out of Syria, but its digital footprint is global – it uploads videos of beheadings, sermons, and exhortations to join its fight against the non-believers. People, anywhere in the world, who’re curious to join their cause have a ready supply of material to be influenced by.
The gateway to all this material is Google.
That’s when Google decided to fight misinformation with information. For the past year, Google’s subsidiary Jigsaw has been developing a program that will combine Google’s search advertising algorithms with YouTube’s video platform to target new recruits. Google’s goal is to stop them from joining ISIS. They plan on doing this by supplying them with accurate information on the terrorist organization.
Named The Redirect Method, it it is basically advertised alongside search results for any keywords and phrases that that a potential ISIS recruit would use. These ads link users to both Arabic and English YouTube channels, which hold videos that present the real picture, and Google hopes will undo ISIS’s propaganda.
Video’s include clips from interview with defectors, imams denouncing ISIS’ corruption of true Islam, and other information that will show the hypocrisy of ISIS. Jigsaw created a list of over 1,700 keywords that trigger ads leading to its anti-ISIS messages.
And it’s shown results. “This year’s pilot program for the Redirect Method was incredibly effective. Over two months, more than 300,000 people were drawn to the anti-ISIS YouTube channels. Searchers clicked on our ads three or four times more often than a typical ad campaign,” developers said.
Through the program, Google stays true to its ethos of privacy – information about these searches are not shared with law enforcement agencies, and the program is not designed to result in arrests or surveillance. “These are people making decisions based on partial, bad information. We can affect the problem of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State by arming individuals with more and better information,” Yasmin Green, Head of research and development for Jigsaw said.
Google’s stated goal is to make all information in the world accessible and usage – this only seems to be a step in that direction.