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Yasmin Green speaks the 2018 TED conference in Vancouver.Ryan Lash/TED

The swift rise of the Islamic State terror group took place in conjunction with the rapid spread of their ideology online. By targeting vulnerable people, the group was able to radicalize and recruit members from all over the world.

Eventually, online platforms begin removing this material from the web. But that isn’t enough, says geopolitical technologist Yasmin Green, who works at Jigsaw, a company developing new technologies to make people safer.

“If we want to have a shot at building meaningful technology that’s going to counter radicalization, we have to start with the human journey at its core,” Ms. Green said during her talk at the recent TED conference in Vancouver.

“It’s actually not tech-savviness that is the reason ISIS wins hearts and minds. It’s an insight into the prejudices, the vulnerabilities and the desires of the people they are trying to reach that does that.”

With that in mind, Jigsaw partnered with Moonshot CVE – an organization specializing in innovative solutions to countering violent extremism – to pilot a new approach to combat radicalization called the “redirect method to connect people at risk of radicalization with credible voices debunking that ideology.

The redirect method works by placing ads at the top of search results for information about joining groups like ISIS. The ads could be videos from defectors, locals showing what life is like in the caliphate, or clerics preaching peaceful interpretations of Islam.

“They don’t have the marketing prowess of ISIS. They risk their lives to speak up and confront terrorist propaganda, but then they tragically don’t reach the people who most need to hear from them,” said Ms. Green.

“We wanted to see if technology could change that.”

To understand the radicalization process, Ms. Green met with dozens of former members of the violent extremist group. Each had fallen victim to carefully crafted messages designed to exploit their vulnerabilities and give them a false idea of what life under ISIS would look like.

“Radicalization isn’t a yes or no choice. It’s a process during which people have questions about ideology, religion, the living conditions,” said Ms. Green.

“They are coming online for answers, which is an opportunity to reach them.”

In an eight-week pilot, Ms. Green and her colleagues reached 300,000 people who had shown interest or sympathy for jihadi groups online. They’ve since expanded the use of the redirect method.

The method targets a wide range of violent ideologies, from white supremacy to radical Islam, and provides resources in a variety of languages.

“These people were now watching videos that could prevent them for making devastating choices,” said Ms. Green.

“[The goal is] giving them the chance to hear from someone on the other side of that journey and give them the chance to choose a different path.”

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