Unless you happen to work in the ad industry, you’re probably not a fan of targeted advertising. But Google is working to use the technique as a way of combating the spread of online terrorist recruitment and propaganda.
Several online firms, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter, have been accused of not doing enough to prevent terror organizations, especially ISIS, from utilizing their services. The issue has led to several lawsuits being filed against the companies by the relatives of those killed in terrorist atrocities.
But according to a report by Wired, Google-owned tech incubator and think tank – Jigsaw – has spent the last year developing the Redirect Method, which combines Google’s search advertising algorithms and YouTube’s video platform to hopefully dissuade potential recruits from joining ISIS and undo the group’s brainwashing.
"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," said Jigsaw's head of research and development Yasmin Green. "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."
The method is activated whenever someone Googles one of 1700 keywords or phrases that Jigsaw believes people with ISIS sympathies often search for. In among the results will be ads containing links to English- and Arabic-language YouTube videos that contain testimonials from former extremists, imams denouncing the group, and even long food lines in the ISIS’s Syrian stronghold Raqqa.
“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,” Green added.
The method has already proved successful; in a two-month trial earlier this year, more than 300,000 people were drawn into Jigsaw’s chosen YouTube channels.
Later this month, there will be a second-phase relaunch of the project targeting both potential ISIS recruits and white supremacists in North America.
Green pointed out that the Redirect method isn’t used to track or trace those who it sends to the YouTube channels. "These are people making decisions based on partial, bad information," she said. "We can affect the problem of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State by arming individuals with more and better information."