Shut it Down: The "De-radicalization" Offensive

Many people assume that shills, subversives, and astroturfers aren't real. They assume that these people are distant, and would never effect them.

These people are fatally wrong.

I became aware of these shilling groups, often imbedded inside so called "de-radicalization" groups after having a rather interesting conversation with a British friend of mine. He pointed me in the direction of an interesting group called the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, known as the ISD. As I quickly found out, this well paid think-tank is engaged in identifying and researching tactics needed to as they put it "enhance understanding of what works in prevention, intervention and response to far-right extremism across Europe."

In a somewhat unintelligent move, the ISD has freely published all of their manuals. Inside their pdf's a few re-occuring themes pops up. "Individual intervention" which I have written about before, and "hate speech response." The ISD has quite a lot to say about responding to "hate speech;" things that we see consistently but never associate with an organized effort.

Approach #1: Takedowns

Probably both the most and least interesting tactic the ISD recommends, takedowns are what you would expect. Banning users from social media, flagging & removing "hate speech" from websites, taking down posters and stickers, and even suppressing simple videos.

Takedowns are uninteresting because they occur on a regular basis for people like us. They are interesting in the context of the ISD because of what they have to say about them. In a case study provided in their manual "On the front line: A guide to countering far-right extremism," the ISD talks about a group known as the "Against Violent Extremism network (AVE)" and their association with the new YouTube trusted flaggers program. The trusted flaggers program, also known as "YouTube Heroes" had a poor reception in its introduction due to Orwellian features such as automated reporting, mass flagging, mass comment removal, ect.

The AVE is a group of "former" right wing "extremists" who have assisted in identifying hate speech on YouTube, and work directly with the trusted flaggers program to help stop it before it gains traction. AVE has a serious say in youtube's policy on extremism, and even directly sets policy on what to do with "hateful content."

This puts an interesting spin on the YouTube heros incident. Records show that AVE has been working with the "YouTube trusted flaggers program" long before its public announcement. Part of the reason that their tools looks so bad may have been directly related to AVE's censorship campaign.

Hard counter: Play off the Streisand Effect hard. The less they want people to know, the more they become interested.

Approach #2: Alternative Narratives

The ISD's second recommended strategy is something we have been seeing for a long time. With the media as a hammer, the ISD recommends that you create an "alternative narrative" through "community leaders." In practice, these types of activities end up in sketchy, blackmail zone territory, where community members may be forced to support a message or do an action to avoid bad press or defacement (check out the Sherry Spencer incident here).

The ISD also has a few less harmful strategies suggested. For example in their case studies, they often suggest holding anti-racist events such as music festivals and small protests. They cite the Polish Never Again Association and their "Polish Woodstock" festival as an example of these efforts.

Hard counter: Due to these tactic's reliance on identities and events, it lends itself vulnerable to tactics that de-legitimize faces and organizations. The public responds in weird ways to messages from people they don't trust.

Approach #3: Counter-narratives

Similar to approach #2, the Counter-narratives strategy relies on public figures. However unlike the previous tactic, this one is less reliant on the people and more oriented to the actual message. It is an attempt at a direct attack, usually through messages that "mock, ridicule or undermine the legitimacy of extremists."

Hard Counter: Meme harder and better. These groups suffer from a serious problem, they are not allowed to be offensive. The best comedy is edgy, use this to your advantage.

One variant on approach number 3 is to use SEO tactics such as Google bombing and rank modification to gain traction. These tactics are actually extremely easy to counter. Google hates those who abuse its search engine more than they could ever hate you; SEO bombing and similar tactics undermine their profits. Report their website and the back-linking used along side it. Google will swiftly de-list or de-rank their website.

What gets emphasized

According the the ISD, the two most important parts of a "response" is the quantity and quality of message. By spreading a "well made" message far and wide, they hope to overshadow real grassroots nationalist activity before it ever hits the public.

To help people create "counter narratives" the ISD runs a website called "Counter-Narrative toolkit" where they have created a huge archive of resources to help people plan, create, and spread message. Many of these tactics are sketchy at best, and usually involve google ad-words, paid tweets, and similar advertising. Some of their "video tutorials" (which are not produced by them) can recommend shaky tactics, some even involving botting and intentionally malicious activity.

The Bottom Line

The tactics used by these "de-radicalization" programs are weak at best, but still have power due to their sheer prevalence. Take time to understand who is attacking you at all times; their tactics might be easier to defeat than you think.

Posted on: 2017-07-21 17:52:28