I recently read an interesting article on Western attempts at counter-propaganda targetted at would-be jihadis, referencing the Counter-narrative Handbook of the London Institute for Strategic Dialogue among other things. The ISD developed a strategy in which Muslim youth in the UK, US and Canada voicing extremist thoughts online were directly addressed by ex-terrorists and other breakaways via Facebook Messenger and engaged in chats to dissuade them.
That's a ressource-intensive method of course, but other approaches have their problems, too. Clandestine government funding for online media campaigns can generate accusations of manipulation which actually feed into the extremist narrative:
REVEALED: The 'woke' media outfit that's actually a UK counterterror programme
This glitzy, youthful 'news company' warns of the dangers of fake news. In fact, it's part of the Home Office's Prevent strategy
Published date: 15 August 2019 10:00 UTC | Last update: 1 month 1 week ago
A Facebook page and Instagram feed with the name This Is Woke describes itself as the work of a “media/news company” that is engaging “in critical discussions around Muslim identity, tradition and reform”.
In fact, it was created by a media company on behalf of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) at the UK Home Office.
The OSCT is refusing to disclose information about the network, however, and will not explain the reason it was created, claiming that to do so would “prejudice the national security of the UK”.
This Is Woke draws upon the popular expression “stay woke”, a call - originally African-American - to remain aware of social and racial justice issues.
Launched earlier this year, the network features videos with titles such as "A trillion ton iceberg has broken off Antarctica" and "Millions of pangolins are hunted each year".
Alongside them are other videos with titles such as "It’s time to hold extremism to account for terrorism, not Islam". This video went viral, being viewed 1.7 million times.
It also features videos of short panel discussions, with four young people sitting on a sofa debating subjects such as "Will we all become vegan?" and "Are dating apps the way forward?", interspersed among these are videos with titles such as "What does wearing a hijab mean to you?"
One discussion video on the This Is Woke Facebook page is entitled "What is fake news?" The four young participants offer contributions such as "online, we can never know who the source is" and "we have to train ourselves against what’s going on out there".
"We acknowledge we went wrong": Lifestyle website for Muslim teens admits it should have been clearer about Home Office funding
SuperSisters employee resigns and recruit turns down job because of website’s links to counter-extremism strategy
Sun 15 Sep 2019 07.04 BST
Last modified on Wed 18 Sep 2019 17.30 BST
A Muslim online lifestyle platform targeting British teenagers is discreetly funded by the Home Office’s counter-extremism programme, the Observer has learned.
The revelation about funding of the project has led to a row between its owners, a former Muslim employee and its Muslim audience.
SuperSisters was built in 2015 by J-Go Media, a company of nine staff members from east London that describes itself as “a not-for-profit community group” and has two decades of experience of engaging with Muslim communities in East London. SuperSisters is promoted as a “global platform for young Muslimahs in east London to share and create inspiring and empowering content”.
But after realising that recent funding for the project was coming from Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT), an arm of the government’s counter-extremism strategy, readers expressed anger and accused its directors of betraying the Muslim community. An employee has since resigned and a recruit declined a job.
Sabah Ismail, a social media manager for SuperSisters from February to August this year, said: “In my naiveity, I thought that through this ‘opportunity’ at SuperSisters, I really could help to make real change, pushing forward a different narrative from Muslim women themselves, showing that we are empowered and multi-faceted … I realise now that with the Home Office funding the project at the root, there was no way I could do this, regardless of the content I was pushing out.”
SuperSisters was conceived by J-Go in response to Shamima Begum and two other British schoolgirls running away to Syria in 2015. The project secured funding from Prevent, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office’s controversial strategy, which was set up to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Prevent has repeatedly faced claims of state-sanctioned spying on Muslims and is currently under independent review.
J-Go’s directors, Jon Hems and Jan Bros, stated: “Where we acknowledge we went wrong, and we apologise for it, is not more clearly stating the source of funding on the SuperSisters Instagram and blog, not just our [parent] website [J-GoLtd.com].”
According to J-Go, “countering extremism for us is about sharing an alternative narrative to highlight positive stories coming from a diverse contributor network”.
However, SuperSisters is left battling the widespread suspicion that it was purposely designed to promote a state-approved notion of the Islamic faith with the potential to track its target audience of British Muslim girls aged 13 to 19. One reader, Aeysh Ahmed, wrote on Instagram: “I am actually shocked ... it’s deeply problematic that non-Muslims feel they have the right to define what our unified identity is.” Another user, @the_hybrid_life, said: “This is truly shocking and disturbing and feels entirely like a violation.”
France tried a shock video campaign after the 2015 Paris terror attacks:
France launches shock video to 'stop jihadists'
28 January 2015
The French government has released a shock video campaign in the hope of dissuading young French nationals from heading to the Middle East to fight with Islamic jihadists, by telling them "you'll find hell on earth and you'll die alone, far from home".
The video (below) attempts to show French viewers the difference between what they're told about heading to Syria and Iraq and the reality of they can expect over there.
The video begins with a skim through popular Jihad groups on social media site Facebook, followed by an anonymous and friendly invitation to join the action. "The truth is out there and now is the time to go... if you want more info just give me your number...".
What follows are a series of comparisons between "What they tell you" and "the reality", often combined with extremely graphic images.
The video clip, which has been doing the rounds in French social media circles since it was published, is part of the government's three-year plan to crack down on terrorism
after 17 people were killed in the Paris terror attacks this month.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced last week that €425 million would be invested in counter-terrorism, with €60 million specifically devoted to the prevention of radicalization, including what he referred to as "cyber patrols" of social media sites.
"Terrorists often use the same social networks as everyone else," Valls explained, calling on Internet service providers to comply with their legal obligations and moral responsibility.
In Germany, the North Rhine-Westphalia State Office for Protection of the Constitution is running the "Jihadifool" YouTube channel which includes videos ridiculing Islamist terrorists á la "Four Lions". However, some say it's missing its target group, not least because the humor is too mainstream German. Other programs are supported by the Federal Center for Political Education, including the "Jamal al-Khatib" video series in which a (fictious, as is said only at the end) Austrian 16-year-old describes his radicalization and breakaway from Islamism, based upon actual stories of several youth.