Isis fights two wars. One on the battlefields of Middle East, North Africa, and Asia and in European cities. The other in the meanders of the Web, where the message of Daesh’ violence and supremacy exerts a disturbing attraction on young Muslims fleeing from their land or marginalized in Western cities. The second is no less dangerous than the first, since it is through recruitment that the jihad increases the number of its fighters. Despite the last scorching military defeats it has suffered, it is still a threat.
Among videos, online magazines, social profiles that belong to sympathizers and militants, the rhythm is continuous. And the message perceived by those who decide to take up a Kalashnikov or become a martyr of the “holy war” is that all atrocities are the inevitable result of the struggle for an ideal. An insult to religion, a mystification that costs thousands of lives every year.
To put an end to this phenomenon, IT giants have taken action too. Facebook and Twitter have been deleting and reporting accounts directly or indirectly linked to the terrorist group led by Al Baghdadi for a long time now. Since a few days, Google has joined them. The tool to which this fight has been entrusted is called Redirect Method. It has been developed by Jigsaw, the technology incubator owned by the Californian Company.
It uses a specific form of advertising on YouTube to target the aspiring recruits to contents that distance them from the jihadist ideology. “This idea was born from the observation of the Caliphate’s material available online” – says Yasmin Green, head of Jigsaw research and development, struck by the testimony of a 13-year-old girl from London, ready to leave her family to join the Islamic State. “She told me she looked at pictures online and it felt like a kind of Islamic Disneyworld – she explains -. None of us has ever thought the same after seeing the media, but that is exactly what a teenager thought.”
Therefrom the idea of a software that aims at a kind of online redirection and counterinformation targeted at ‘weaker’ personalities who might be vulnerable to Isis propaganda. In practice, Redirect Method inserts ads next to the search results and most frequent keywords looked up by people fascinated by the Caliphate. These announcements, in Arabic and English, lead to pre-existing videos on YouTube, which Jigsaw considers capable of breaking the “brainwashing” chain right on the Internet, such as testimonies of former extremists or imams who denounce the corruption of Islam brought about by the Islamic state.
A pilot project of the Redirect Method program was carried out at the beginning of 2016: over the course of two months, over 300 thousand people were led towards anti-Isis information. According to researchers’ estimates, users who clicked on these contents up to four times as often as it happens in the case of traditional advertising campaigns. This month, Jigsaw is trying to re-launch a second phase of the project, focusing mainly on the US and applying the same method to racist messages.
If the system devised by Google were to help achieve the desired effect, the international jihad will be defeated in the only field where it can still boast strength: widespread propaganda. And the Internet will send a strong message: the network was created to change the way we live for the better, not to follow those who exploit it to spread messages that go against the universal values of peace, tolerance, and dignity.