Jigsaw’s Yasmin Green Shares Lessons From Tackling Online Extremism

The head of research and development for Google’s Jigsaw division explains how to succeed when your mission gets complicated.

Jigsaw’s Yasmin Green Shares Lessons From Tackling Online Extremism
Yasmin Green, head of research and development at Google's Jigsaw [Photo: Samantha Casolari]

As a core member of Google’s Jigsaw division, Yasmin Green is using technology to tackle online extremism. Jigsaw is identifying people vulnerable to recruitment by ISIS and other groups and trying to de-radicalize them through targeted online content—a challenge that requires persistence and empathy.

Believe In Your Mission

When Jigsaw (then called Google Ideas) launched in 2010, it faced skepticism. “It was difficult to get anyone to take you seriously when you said the internet had anything to do with violent extremism,” Green said at the Fast Company Innovation Festival in November. “Now the pendulum has swung so far the other way, there’s hysteria that the internet is the root of extremism. And neither of those is the case.”

Prove That You Care

If you truly believe that what you’re doing matters, push yourself as much as you can. “Give a damn about the people who work with you and give a damn about the people you serve. How do you show you care? Time. Spend time understanding others’ needs. Provide and solicit feedback.”

Get Close To The Problem

To more effectively counteract propaganda, Green and her team are trying to understand why people might be drawn to extremist ideologies in the first place. “I went to Iraq and Europe to interview defectors from ISIS. I wanted to hear about the human experience of radicalization—and get former loyalists’ input on designing a solution. [It’s easy to] think anyone who decides to join must be a psychopath or a despicable person,” she says, but some ISIS recruits are lured by false promises rather than being attracted to violence. “This is an access-to-information problem. They are making bad decisions based on bad, partial information.”