Sunday, March 6, 2016

Quotable: Reuters on a changed U.S. strategy against online extremism

Saturday, March 5th 2016
“The U.S. government, acknowledging its limited success in combating Islamic extremist messaging, is recruiting tech companies, community organizations and educational groups to take the lead in disrupting online radicalization.”  This opened a February 24, 2016, Reuters dispatch by Julia Harte and Dustin Volz, “U.S. looks to Facebook, private groups to battle online extremism.”  Here are a few key quotes from their news report:

  • The change in strategy, which took a step forward on Wednesday when the Justice Department convened a meeting with social media firms including Facebook Inc, Twitter and Alphabet Inc's Google , comes despite what critics say is scant evidence on the effectiveness of such efforts.

  • The meeting was “a recognition that the government is ill-positioned and ill-equipped to counter ISIS online,” Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism, said after attending the event, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

  • The federal government is not best placed to counter extremist online recruitment efforts with messaging of its own, said George Selim, director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office that coordinates the government’s “countering violent extremism” (CVE) activities.

  • The goal now, he said, is to help “communities and young people to amplify their own messages.”

  • Those messages stem from so-called "counter-narrative" programs underway at schools and community groups that have varying degrees of government support, according to government officials and private sector experts.

  • Facebook last year partnered with British research group Demos to examine the impact of "counter-messaging" against hate speech in four European countries.

  • The study, released in October, concluded it was “extremely difficult to calculate with any degree of precision” whether such efforts have a real impact on long-term attitudes or offline behavior.

  • “You don’t necessarily know if something is going to change the way someone thinks offline, but we can measure whether somebody shares that content or interacts with it,” Monica Bickert, Facebook's head of global policy management, told Reuters.

  • One of the new programs, funded partly by Facebook and multiple government agencies, underwrites “peer-to-peer” (P2P) college courses that teach students to create their own anti-militant messaging.

  • Facebook declined to say how much it was investing in the program, though Selim described Facebook’s overall investment in CVE initiatives as “very significant.”

  • Another effort is underway at WORDE, a Muslim educational organization in Maryland, which last week launched a campaign that aims to refute Islamic State messages through catchy videos and live broadcasts of discussions about mainstream Islam.

  • WORDE plans to use software or survey questions to gauge the impact of its new counter-messaging campaign, said Hedieh Mirahmadi, the group’s president.  "Everybody creates stuff but doesn't really care about whether it's connected to the science of evaluations,” Mirahmadi told Reuters.

  • Democratic New Jersey Senator Cory Booker told Reuters that he is working on two bills -- one of which has already passed committee in the Senate -- that would give DHS the authority to fund more college classes and research on how to best counter Islamic State’s slick propaganda campaigns.

  • “Government messages do not prove to have that type of virality,” Booker said.

  • Mohamed Magid, a Virginia imam who has counseled several youth targeted by Islamic State recruiters, leads an Islamic foundation soliciting donations to create a 24/7 online operation that would answer each Islamic State video with peaceful messages.

  • “If we say this is a government thing, it might not have legitimacy,” Magid said. “We’re challenging the Muslim community to say, on this, yourself, respond to the challenge.”

Hat tip:  To Inform is to Influence

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