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

The cost of going after Bloomberg

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Here's the growing dilemma for 2020 Democrats vying for a one-on-one showdown with frontrunner Bernie Sanders: Do they have the guts — and the money — to first stop Mike Bloomberg?

Why it matters: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren all must weigh the costs of punching Bloomberg where he looks most vulnerable: stop-and-frisk, charges of sexism, billionaire entitlement. The more zealous the attacks, the greater the risk he turns his campaign ATM against them.

How Trump’s economy stacks up

Source: "Presidents and US Economy", Trump figures through 2019 courtesy of Alan Blinder; Note: Data shows real GDP and Q1 growth in each term is attributed to the previous president; Chart: Axios Visuals

Average economic growth under President Trump has outpaced the growth under Barack Obama, but not all of his recent predecessors.

Why it matters: GDP is the most comprehensive economic scorecard — and something presidents, especially Trump, use as an example of success. And it's especially relevant since Trump is running for re-election on his economic record.

Coronavirus cases rise as 14 American evacuees infected

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's NHC; Note: China refers to mainland China and the Diamond Princess is the cruise ship offshore Yokohama, Japan. Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

14 Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for the novel coronavirus before being flown in a "specialist containment" on a plane repatriating U.S. citizens back home, the U.S. government said early Monday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 1,770 people and infected almost 70,000 others. Most cases and all but five of the deaths have occurred in mainland China. Taiwan confirmed its first death on Sunday, per multiple reports, in a 61-year-old man with underlying health conditions. Health officials were investigating how he became ill.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 hours ago - Health