Startup Uses Paid Search To Redirect Extremist Terms In Google, Counter Radicalism
Moonshot CVE, a private London-based start-up aimed at heading off radicalism, has developed an online tool that sends those who type in extremist search terms in Google to videos promoting anti-extremist views.
The company first used the technology to redirect potential recruits for the Islamic State, but it recently it has repurposed to counter radicalism in the United States, according to one report.
Moonshot CVE has worked with the Anti-Defamation League and Gen Next Foundation, a philanthropic organization, to develop the pilot that ran for several months in the summer of 2019.
“I think in general that U.S. government work in the prevention space has been a little bit slow in coming, but this strikes us as a very worthwhile program that should continue,” Russell E. Travers, acting director of the National Counterterrorism Center, toldThe New York Times.
Vidhya Ramalingam and Ross Frenett created Moonshot. Both worked at a London think tank that focused on Islamic and other forms of extremism issues before they founded the company in 2015.
The effort, to be unveiled in the coming months in the United States, will respond to a wide range of search terms.
Moonshot, which previously developed 48 ads, now has 1,064. Five playlists have been expanded to 86. The goal is to redirect search terms such as “RaHoWa” — short for Racial Holy War — among others.
Moonshot buys ads on Google. The NYT reports that sometimes the company will self-finance its media buy similar to the way it did in New Zealand and Australia in the following 24 hours after the attacks on mosques in March.
The redirects also send those searching on extremist phrases and words to YouTube. Playlists might include short videos with former extremists who explain why the ideology is misguided. The idea is to help people change their perspective.
The Moonshot team spends months building a database of search terms — about 20,000 that will trigger an ad on Google in which searcher can click on. Searches about committing hate crimes surge after attacks like the August shooting at an El Paso Walmart or the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, according to the report.
Moonshot told the NYT it gets data only on search terms and nothing about individuals.
Funding sometimes creates challenges, but recently not in Canada. The Canadian government awarded Moonshot more than $1.5 million to run the program that ends in March after 18 months.