YouTube is Tricking People Who Search for ISIS Propaganda Videos

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YouTube has taken a stand against terrorist propaganda through the use of redirection techniques that send users who search for such content to videos featuring victims or terrorism and religious clerics who refute the violent extremist messages. The intent is to display content designed to “help change minds of people at risk of being radicalized.

As reported by the Washington Post, social media companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been working to curb the influx of terrorist propaganda and hate speech that may be viewed by users. YouTube considers the “Redirect Method” to be its latest effort in the fight against content that could encourage users to participate in violent acts.

YouTube, which is part of the same parent company that owns Google, has strict rules designed to prohibit users from posting videos that feature racist or violent content. However, users often bypass these restrictions by loading hundreds of links. Many of the clips are added as “unlisted,” keeping them hidden from searches but allowing the direct links to be easily shared.

Companies like AT&T, GSK, Johnson and Johnson, and Verizon have pulled their advertising from YouTube after screenshots showed their products being advertised over videos featuring extremist content. These moves reflect the dispute regarding how the social media company managed videos that could be deemed offensive and encouraged YouTube to take steps to remedy the issue.

The Redirect Method, created by Jigsaw, a company owned by the Google and YouTube parent company, Alphabet, is designed to target videos focused on the Islamic State in particular. Jigsaw research partners interviewed ISIS defectors to identify key narratives used in recruitment efforts.

Instead of attacking ISIS directly, Jigsaw representatives took a different approach to combating propaganda messages.

Jigsaw writes, “We found an abundance of videos to support our project and our focus of the research was on seeking out videos that appeared to be neutral in intention, including documentaries or citizen journalist footage that portray the world as the creators found it, rather than materials that appear specifically designed to counter ISIS.”

However, some digital privacy experts question YouTube’s choice. Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, admits the redirect method may be effective at fighting the spread of propaganda but is concerned about how the involvement of advertisers may have shaped the systems implementation.

“The advertisers took advantage of this controversy over hate speech to assert their interests over how Google and Facebook operate,” said Chester. “The danger here is that Google and Facebook are making decisions about how the future of the digital media system operates without public oversight and accountability.”

YouTube users can expect other changes in the near future as well, including the use of machine learning to update search query terms and redirection attempts designed to counteract extremists messages at various points in the radicalization funnel.

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