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Can online videos counter terrorist propaganda?

The videos targetting teenagers and young adults were part of three experiments that explored how to use the machinery of online advertising to counterbalance the growing wave of extremist propaganda on the internet

An online video campaign that saw tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Google’s parent company Alphabet participating has been found promising in preventing youth exposed to online terrorist propaganda from getting radicalised.

The videos targetting teenagers and young adults were part of three experiments that explored how to use the machinery of online advertising to counterbalance the growing wave of extremist propaganda on the internet, both from Islamist radicals and far-right groups, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In the clearest examples of impact, eight individuals reached out to ExitUSA — a project of the US-based non-profit organisation Life After Hate — asking for assistance “getting away from hate” in response to their campaign, said a study, detailed in a report by London-based think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

ExitUSA aims to discourage individuals from joining white power movements and encourage defection by offering a ‘way out’.

Besides ExitUSA, the project included videos created by two other groups — Average Mohamed and Harakat-ut-Taleem.

US-based Average Mohamed is a non-profit organisation that uses animation to encourage critical thinking among Somali youth (in Somali and English) about extremist ideologies.

Harakat-ut-Taleem, run by an anonymous group in Pakistan, created videos to dissuade people from joining the Taliban.

“Our hypothesis was that a small amount of funding and guidance for counter-narrative campaigners, in terms of deploying social media advertising tools to reach ‘target audiences’, could dramatically improve the awareness, engagement and impact of counter-narratives and NGOs working in this space,” the researchers said.

“The findings presented in this report support this hypothesis in a highly compelling way,” they noted.

The three campaigns received over 378,000 videos views and over 20,000 total engagements, including likes, shares, replies, retweets and comments. Over 480 comments were made in response to the content, the report said.

“Our qualitative analysis of comments, and in particular ‘sustained engagements’, provide a persuasive indication of content inspiring the consideration of different viewpoints, critical thinking and sowing the seeds of doubt,” the report said.

Whether it remains unclear whether counter-narratives can actually deter radicalisation, the experimet suggest that targetted video campaigns could be effective in driving conversations among the member of the vulnerbale communities.

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