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Rather Than Just Hiding Extremist Videos, YouTube Will Offer Anti-Extremist Results

After calls from British Prime Minister Theresa May to do more to fight extremism, YouTube is trying a counter-extremism technique called the Redirect Method.

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Today YouTube is rolling out a new feature to combat people who use its platform to promote extremist views.

In the past, YouTube has taken a reactive approach to content that violates its terms of service: After human users or the site's algorithm flag offending videos, YouTube deletes the videos and blocks the accounts responsible.

Now rather than simply removing content and banning bad actors, YouTube will take preemptive measures. When someone searches for extremist content on YouTube, the site will show them a playlist of videos that argue against extremism. NGOs that specialize in creating anti-extremist content will curate the video playlist.

The technique, dubbed the Redirect Method, "uses curated video content to redirect people away from violent extremist propaganda and steer them toward video content that confronts extremist messages and debunks its mythology," according to a YouTube blog announcing the feature. The Redirect Method's dedicated website says that the technique uses Google AdWords in conjunction with the curated content.

For now, the feature focuses on English-language videos about Islamic extremism, specifically the videos that ISIS uses to recruit new members. YouTube said it's partnered with NGOs like Moonshot CVE to further research how best to counter extremism and to create new video content.

YouTube said it will measure the success of the program "by how much the content is engaged." A pilot of the program conducted in August and September 2015 saw 320,000 people watch 500,000 minutes of 116 curated anti-extremism videos. According to YouTube, any institution is welcome to copy its methodology.

YouTube said the types of video that are most effective are not always overtly anti-ISIS: "We focused our survey on videos that were objective in appearance rather than materials that appeared specifically designed to counter ISIS. We used keyword searches to identify 'hidden' counter-argument content — that is, videos that are not necessarily well-known, and often not designed explicitly to refute ISIS."

Three categories of video fit the bill in the pilot program: citizen journalism and documentary footage, religious debate between clerics and other religious figures, and videos featuring ISIS defectors.

YouTube and its NGO partners identified five features that appear in many ISIS recruiting videos:

"Good governance, military might, religious legitimacy, call to jihad, and victimhood of the umma (the umma is the worldwide body of Muslims)."

The program's next steps, according to YouTube's blog post, will focus on curbing Islamic extremism in Europe's many languages:

  • "Expanding the new YouTube product functionality to a wider set of search queries in other languages beyond English."
  • "Using machine learning to dynamically update the search query terms."
  • "Working with expert NGOs on developing new video content designed to counter violent extremist messaging at different parts of the radicalization funnel."
  • "Collaborating with Jigsaw to expand the “Redirect Method” in Europe."

British Prime Minister Theresa May has increasingly called for tech companies like Facebook and Google to do more to combat Islamic extremism in Europe.

France has backed her statements. May and France's President Emmanuel Macron agreed in May to develop a forum on fighting terrorism that will help tech companies develop better methods for rooting out recruitment efforts on their platforms.

Blake Montgomery is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.

Contact Blake Montgomery at blake.montgomery@buzzfeed.com.

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