YouTube launches its counter-terrorism experiment for would-be ISIS recruits

Google’s big experiment in digital counter-terrorism begins rolling out today. Collaborating with its own in-house think tank, Jigsaw, the new effort seeks to bury ISIS-related propaganda on YouTube. Now, when a potential ISIS recruit searches for known extremist content using a predefined set of keywords, they’ll instead be redirected to videos that deconstruct and confront the terrorist group. The project is called the Redirect Method.

As the Redirect Method homepage explains:

“The Redirect Method uses Adwords targeting tools and curated YouTube videos uploaded by people all around the world to confront online radicalization. It focuses on the slice of ISIS’ audience that is most susceptible to its messaging, and redirects them towards curated YouTube videos debunking ISIS recruiting themes. This open methodology was developed from interviews with ISIS defectors, respects users’ privacy and can be deployed to tackle other types of violent recruiting discourses online.”

The Redirect Method began with an eight-week pilot program enlisting 320,000 viewers that explored some key insights around the kind of things that potential ISIS recruits search for and what kind of content does and doesn’t work as counter-propaganda. For example, documentary videos and citizen journalism often proved to be more effective at countering pro-ISIS narratives, as did videos that featured religious debates and videos from ISIS defectors.

The keywords that trigger YouTube’s new tools centered around search terms that contained positive ISIS sentiment, like the slogan “Baqiyah wa Tatamadad (“Remaining & Expanding”) and respectful terms like “Al Dawla Al Islameyah,” which includes the honorific “al-Dawla,” denoting respect.

For the advertising giant, the model was simple enough: create a strategy of reaching potential ISIS recruits just like any other kind of targeted advertising reaches a relevant consumer base.

The Redirect Method, hatched out of Jigsaw, is available as an open blueprint for other platforms and organizations seeking to counter extremist propaganda.

TechCrunch reached out to Google to ask if the company has plans to generalize the Redirect Method to other rampant forms of violent, extremist content (non-Islamic U.S. domestic terrorism, for example) and we will update the story with more detail when we hear back.

“As we develop this model of the Redirect Method on YouTube, we’ll measure success by how much this content is engaged,” the YouTube team wrote on its blog post. “Stay tuned for more.”