How Google Is Using Its Advertising Algorithim to Fight ISIS
Google is known to most as a search engine, but the tech behemoth makes its money through its soothsayer-like ability to predict things of interest to its users. The company is now using that same algorithm to turn people away from the terror group ISIS.
Jigsaw, a Google incubator devoted to solving conflict-related issues, has taken the technology behind the company’s targeted advertising to redirect potential and active ISIS members away from the group’s pervasive propaganda machine. To that end, the group has been developing an aptly named program, the “Redirect Method,” which uses its ad algorithm to target ISIS sympathizers and push them towards content refuting the terror group’s message.
Using a list of 1,700 keywords and phrases that Jigsaw has determined ISIS sympathizers look for, search results are displayed along with Arabic and English links to YouTube clips that counter ISIS’ narrative. “This came out of an observation that there’s a lot of online demand for ISIS material, but there are also a lot of credible organic voices online debunking their narratives,” says Yasmin Green, Jigsaw’s head of research and development, told Wired. “The Redirect Method is at its heart a targeted advertising campaign: Let’s take these individuals who are vulnerable to ISIS’ recruitment messaging and instead show them information that refutes it.”
Jigsaw’s anti-ISIS strategy differs from others, because it uses pre-existing content—for example, videos from former members or long lines for food inside the self-proclaimed Caliphate. Campaigns like the U.S. State Department’s “Think Again, Turn Away,” generate PSA-like content that mostly affects those less under the extremist group’s spell. The Google incubator targets those most committed to joining ISIS by pinging results for searches ranging from travel tips to the names of extremist preachers promoting the violent Islamist gang.
It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of Jigsaw’s anti-terror-propaganda campaign, but the incubator acknowledges the program has done a good job of engaging its audience. Some of Jigsaw’s ads were clicked three times more than the average Google ad. In just two months, over 300,000 from the targeted group watched the associated YouTube clips for 500,00 minutes collectively.
The “Redirect Method” begins a new phase this month. Jigsaw has partnered with two groups, a U.K.–based startup and U.S.–based nonprofit, to relaunch its program. Moonshot CVE and Gen Next will work with Google’s incubator to focus on a wider range of extremists, from white supremacists to ISIS sympathizers, in North America. Learn more about the “Redirect Method” here.
Below are two videos that Jigsaw has used to try and push potential recruits away from ISIS’ gravitational pull. Neither depicts the violent group, but rather the truth behind the terror group’s lies. The first shows long lines for food in Raqqa, while the second video captures an elderly woman excoriating ISIS members with Koranic verses.