ISIS Masters SEO
A four minute video from MIT Technology Review, featuring Alphabet’s head of R&D, Yasmin Green, speaks about the “perverse best practice” learned by ISIS to radicalize disaffectioned people online.
Google (parent organization is Alphabet) is aware of how their search engine is being used. Anyone can learn SEO and do a better job of getting their website to come up in a search. ISIS has learned. They do website promotion really well. And they use the techniques learned to recruit people to their cause.
ISIS uses micro-targeting. They specify a locale and post their content web page in the language of that locale. They also know the political-economic issues of that locale. This knowledge enables them to create content with special design. The content empathizes with the hurt of the people located in the targeted area. In this way, their product, terrorism, wins a hearing.
Some who hear will take the next step. They will become convinced (radicalized) that the only way to get relief is to get the attention of those in power. The best way to get the attention of those in power is to commit an act of terror. Now in this way a mass killing of some sort is born. This gains high-level attention.
If you’d known…
Imagine a terrorist who has gone through Jehadi training to be a suicide bomber. Disillusionment has driven the individual to defect at the risk of his life. Such people – men and women – do exist. You confront them with the information they have come to realize – and which drove them at great risk to defect. You ask, “If you’d known then what you know now, would you still have made the same decision?”
The rather consistent answer is, “Yes, I would still have joined.” When asked for an explanation of what seems to us as counter-intuitive logic, they would respond, “At that point I was so convinced, that I would have refused any information as false. Even though true, it would have threatened my determination to help what I thought to be victims.”
Six months prior…
Then the questioner rephrases the question, “Had you known six months prior to making the decision to join what you know now would you have made the same decision?” “No. At that earlier point I’d have been able to realize the disparity between the two perspectives and realized what I do now, that ISIS is a purveyor of a false reality.” Hearing and reading the appeals online was convincing. Seeing and experiencing the corruption and brutality, once inside the organization, overpowered even that initial brain-washed conviction that was so powerful at first.
Using Technology – a “better place”
The real counter effort comes in educating people to the danger before the radicalization process begins. “Access to information can be a real game changer here,” said Green. Perhaps as did I, you will find it interesting that the title MIT Technology Review gave to the video was, “Using Technology to Make the World a Better Place.”
Google seeks to set a standard. Up until October of 2015, the corporate motto was, “Don’t be evil.” Perhaps because the word “evil” no longer resonates within our culture, they changed the motto in 2015 to, “Do the right thing.” A sentiment not far removed. It is a tall order to “make the world a better place.” Doing the right thing consistently is a reasonable starting place. Using technology to counter the evil of terrorists is a step in the right direction.