Those pesky ads—they get in the way of your marathon YouTube sessions, not to mention they’re a drain on your computer’s resources. But thanks to Google, they may also be stopping ISIS.
A scrappy Google subsidiary called Jigsaw—more think tank than tech company—is experimenting with ads that redirect people searching for pro-ISIS content to YouTube clips of Muslim clerics pointing out ISIS’s hypocrisy, among other footage that paints ISIS in a negative light.
Jigsaw has more than 1,700 keywords that trigger the ads leading to anti-ISIS YouTube playlists, according to Wired. It ran a test campaign earlier this year that went swimmingly by online advertising standards: click-through rates surpassed 9 percent, compared to the average 2 or 3 percent that’s common for Google keyword ads.
Jigsaw, formerly known as Google Ideas, doesn’t promote its anti-ISIS effort. On its website, it instead highlights other projects, like a system that helps journalists analyze YouTube footage captured in conflict zones. But that under-the-radar approach is likely part of what makes it successful: unlike most Google ads, which are clearly labeled, the anti-ISIS campaign relies on authentic footage, the antithesis of propaganda.
“We thought, what if the content exists already?” Jigsaw’s research director Yasmin Green told Wired. “We knew if it wasn’t created explicitly for this purpose, it would be more authentic and therefore more compelling.”
The success of Google’s ISIS antidote trial is a rare bright spot in Silicon Valley’s struggle to keep extremism off the Internet. Twitter has suspended hundreds of thousands of accounts that promote terrorism, but pro-ISIS accounts still routinely threaten attacks, including aseries in July against airports worldwide.
The British government last month accused Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and other social networks of not taking enough responsibility for the impact of extremist material uploaded to their sites. The report lamented that “these companies have teams of only a few hundred employees to monitor networks of billions of accounts and that Twitter does not even proactively report extremist content to law enforcement agencies.”