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Google Wants To Lock ISIS Out Of The Open Web

Google says the terrorist group ISIS is using social media to create a false narrative.

[Photo: MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images]

Google’s head of ideas, Jared Cohen, said in London this week that the terror group ISIS must be pushed off of the open web if it is to be hindered from spreading its message online. Cohen, whose responsibility at Google is to build tools to fight oppression, made the comments on Monday during a talk with the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, reports The Guardian.

Cohen said it won’t be possible to push ISIS from the dark web, commonly accessed by a small number of more advanced Internet users using the Tor network, so focus must be spent on removing and combating the terrorist organization's propaganda on the tradition Internet that can be indexed by search engines.

ISIS has been exploiting the open Internet to radicalize young people and attract new supporters. The terrorist group is active on social media, including on sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. In addition to using bots to spread propaganda on these channels, the group produces professional-quality videos designed for social media.

"What ISIS is doing is reflective of the times, as opposed to some sort of new sophistication that magically appeared," Cohen said. "What is new is that they’re operating without being pushed back in the same Internet we all enjoy. So success looks like ISIS being contained to the dark web."

Because of its reach online, Cohen says ISIS has been able to perform a sleight of hand by creating more social media accounts than it has members. This "has managed to create an exaggerated sense of their size online," says Cohen.

Cohen says to combat ISIS’s open web reach, its social media accounts must be taken offline as soon as they appear. This will prevent ISIS for spreading its propaganda and recruiting new members to its cause. Cohen's comments were bolstered by a recent report from George Washington University’s program on extremism, which found that "social media activity played a crucial role in radicalisation and mobilisation to Iraq and Syria," according to The Guardian.

In the end, Cohen says, ISIS is "not a tech savvy organisation." It uses the same tactics Internet fraudsters and spammers do. However, Cohen notes these tactics should not be underestimated.

The Guardian notes that, besides blocking ISIS’s social media accounts as soon as they appear, other proposals for fighting ISIS online include serving targeted ads denouncing the group to people who search for the organization online.