News & Politics

Creepy New Google Program Will Adjust Top Search Results to 'Combat Extremism'

ISIS panic further entrenches the partnership between governments and Silicon Valley.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Annette Shaff

A new pilot program by Google and the UK Home Office will work to "combat" "radicalisation" by adjusting the "top" results if one searches for "extremist" material, according to the Telegraph.

Google to deliver wrong 'top' search results to would-be jihadis

Jihadi sympathisers who type extremism-related words into Google will be shown anti-radicalisation links instead, under a pilot scheme announced by the internet giant.

The new technology means people at risk of radicalisation will be presented with internet links which are the exact opposite of what they were searching for.

Dr Anthony House, a senior Google executive, revealed the pilot scheme in evidence to MPs scrutinising the role of internet companies in combating extremism.

“We are working on counter-narratives around the world. This year one of the things we’re looking at is we are running two pilot programmes,” said Dr House.

Google claims the program will not adjust the results themselves but will simply curate the top results which are typically used for advertising, and the ad revenue would be made up in government money set aside for anti-extremism efforts.

“We should get the bad stuff down, but it’s also extremely important that people are able to find good information, that when people are feeling isolated, that when they go online, they find a community of hope, not a community of harm,” said Anthony House, senior manager for public policy and communications at Google, according to the Guardian.

The effort by Google is being rolled out in concert with a plan to make extremist videos on YouTube less discoverable. The three major Silicon Valley firms — Google, Facebook and Twitter — are under pressure from the British Home Office to combat "ISIS propaganda" and other extremist content.

Who determines what is extremism or terrorism-related content or the criteria for such content was not made clear in any of the reports or any of the statements offered by the companies or the UK Home Office. Policy directors for both Facebook and Google said their companies would proactively notify the government of extremist content using a “threat to life” standard.

While the efforts are nominally to combat ISIS, the language, along with similar efforts by Home Secretary Theresa May, is vague enough to include other forms of "extremism." In May 2011, British authorities deemed Occupy London "terrorists" along with al-Qaeda on internal documents and in 2013, it was revealed that certain anti-fracking protestors were labeled extremists by police.  

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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