Mar 27, 2018

Exclusive: ‘Redirecting' extremists away from radical content

Illustration: Sarah Grillo / Axios

This story is from Codebook, the new Axios cybersecurity newsletter that launched today. Sign up here.

It’s no secret that the internet is a fertile recruiting ground for extremists of all types. But a five-month effort trying to combat extremism shows promise in getting would-be white nationalist and ISIS sympathizers to click away from radical content.

Driving the news: Moonshot CVE, an anti-extremist consultancy, ran ads directed at users searching for propagandist torture videos and using searches like "how to join ISIS" or "kill all the Jews." Working in partnership with the Gen Next Foundation and the Google run incubator Jigsaw, Moonshot was able to divert 1,300 at-risk Google searchers to counter-narratives debunking propaganda or presenting an alternate worldview.

Why it matters: The internet is a major recruitment and organizational tool for extremist groups. Rather than count on websites to police themselves, Moonshot aims to temper extremists' ability to find that content. Based on Moonshot's numbers, there's reason to hope that someone can head would-be extremists off at the pass or even direct them to help, including mental health programs, an option they tested.

The effect: Moonshot’s redirecting strategy worked on 1,300 people out of 56,000 attempts. That's a fairly strong outcome — 20% more effective than the average ad on Google search.

The mental health option: Moonshot also experimented with offering ads for mental health services to those searching for extremist content. It appears to be a viable option. Their targets were 48% more likely to click on an add for psychiatric support than a control group. Those searching for the most violent content clicked on the ad 115% more often.

The big picture: Redirecting a person once does not inherently mean they will be dissuaded from seeking extremist material again. However, many former extremists say that mental health and social work were critical to leave violent movements. But while Moonshot is still tinkering with the content on the other end of their ads, it all means nothing if the ads don't work — which they appear to.

Go deeper

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

The aftermath of George Floyd's death: Everything you need to know

A mural outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, near where George Floyd was killed in an encouner with police. Photo: Steel Brooks/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is in jail under $500,000 bail on charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter after a video of him kneeling on George Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes and Floyd's death catapulted the country's major cities into a state of protest.

The big picture: Floyd's fatal run-in with police is the latest reminder of the disparities between black and white communities in the U.S. and comes as African Americans grapple with higher death rates from the coronavirus and higher unemployment from trying to stem its spread.

Updated 29 mins ago - Science

Live updates: SpaceX attempts to launch NASA astronauts Saturday

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad. Photo: NASA/Joel Kowsky

At 3:22 p.m. ET today, SpaceX is expected to launch NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station for the first time.

Why it matters: The liftoff — should it go off without a hitch — will be the first time a private company has launched people to orbit. It will also bring crewed launches back to the U.S. for the first time in nine years, since the end of the space shuttle program.

Follow along below for live updates throughout the day...

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Protesters clash with police nationwide over George Floyd

Police officers grapple with protesters in Atlanta. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray as the protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd spread nationwide on Friday evening.

The big picture: Police responded in force in cities ranging from Atlanta to Des Moines, Houston to Detroit, Milwaukee to Washington, D.C. and Denver to Louisville. In Los Angeles, police declared a stretch of downtown off limits, with Oakland issuing a similar warning.