The ADL is fighting the KKK and white supremacists with online marketing and targeted advertising techniques tied to Google search and curated YouTube videos.
The Anti-Defamation League, Moonshot CVE and the Gen Next Foundation are joining forces in the U.S. to apply the Redirect Method, a program that steers individuals who search online for violent or extremist content to material that exposes the falsehoods and hatred and directs them to non-violent alternatives.
The Redirect Method was born out of a partnership in 2016 among Google’s Jigsaw tech incubator, the Google-backed London-based Moonshot start-up, and the U.S.-based Gen Next Foundation. The goal was to meet the enemy online and go toe-to-toe with their efforts to market themselves to vulnerable youth.
Early on, that meant redirecting people searching for violent Jihadism or far-right content toward YouTube videos that debunked hate groups recruiting efforts. According to Moonshot, an estimated 320,906 unique users clicked on the Redirect Method’s pilot ads.
The latest use of the Redirect Method to fight white supremacists is expected to run about a year.
“This is just a pilot project, and I have no illusions that it’s going to alone solve the problem,” says ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. “But a model developed on the basis of interviews with ISIS defectors and how they were sort of radicalized – it makes sense to try to use it to tackle other types of violent extremist discourses. Whatever we can do try to neutralize this threat before it takes hold I think is worth a try.”
The Rand Corporation also recommended as part of a case study on the Redirect Method to enlist the assistance of former extremists who can help assess whether Google Ads and video content shown to those searching for hate content is entertaining, accurate, and potentially persuasive.
The ADL has been monitoring extremist activities for generations, so its familiarity with the code words, phrasings, iconography and core ideology of the various hate groups can help supplement the ad-words used as part of the Redirect Method.
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Far-right and Jihadi searches often include historic “hero” figures such as Hitler, Timothy McVeigh and Osama bin Laden.
There is also a clear link between offline events and online searches. Around the time of the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, for example, there was a huge spike in searches to join the Ku Klux Klan.
The Redirect Method doesn’t prevent a person from still visiting extremist destinations online. And there may be legitimate academic purposes to go to such sites.
What the Redirect Method does do, however, is place ads and links for the alternative non-violent sites at the top of Google’s search results, where the advertising click-through rates tend to be the highest.
“Before the Redirect Method existed there was quite literally an unobstructed path to terrorist and extremist content,” says Jenielle Alonso, chief communications officer at Gen Next. “To have that be an uncontested digital battlefield is just not something we were willing to accept.”
By way of example, if a person on the fringe, or in some pre-radicalization mode, enters a search query asking “Is it true that the Mossad took down the World Trade Center?” the counter-narrative reflected in a top search result would direct the person to a place that would make it clear that that was just an unfounded conspiracy theory.
A search on “I want to join the KKK” could lead to a search result and link that says that “No race should be superior. Make up your own mind. Browse our playlist to find out more.”
Greenblatt says “just by prioritizing the good stuff in a subtle way that seems consistent with the search results, it’s a clever contextualized way to counter a negative narrative.”
Hate groups rely on technology to spread their ideology online. Moonshot CVE founder Vidhya Ramalingam says, “Launching the Redirect Method in every county in the U.S. represents a major step forward in the fight against white nationalism and jihadism in the online space. Even when terrorist material is removed from the internet, the person searching for it is left behind.”
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