Is Google subsidising anti-Muslim conspiracists? 19 February 2016

Some might have heard the news recently that Google is experimenting with a new way to counter-violent extremism, something that emerged when Anthony House spoke to the Home Affairs Select Committee on countering extremism. He explained: –

“This year…. we are running two pilot programmes. One is to make sure that these types of videos are more discoverable on YouTube. The other one is to make sure when people put potentially damaging search terms into our search engine.. they also find this counter narrative.”

You might be slightly concerned about Google, the doorway for millions to access the internet, intervening so directly in the content searched for online, but the actual solution is quite elegant. ‘Counter-narratives’, as House calls them, would appear as promoted ads for certain key words, as clarified to the Guardian by a Google spokesperson after the hearing: –

“The free Google AdWords Grant program is starting a pilot for a handful of eligible non-profits organizations to run ads against terrorism-related search queries of their choosing.”

This all sounds positive, and I gave it a try (terrifying as it was to search for terms like “join isis”, I can just imagine the digital equivalent of James Bond being told to keep an eye on me), and indeed, a handful of counter-extremism links appeared as ads.

What is less positive is the discovery that the Clarion Project’s videos are appearing under this Google scheme. I haven’t managed to find a promoted advert from the Clarion Project myself, but it is reported here with the screenshot showing the Clarion Project’s video reproduced below.

screengrab-google-640x269

If you’re not familiar with the Clarion Project, then you may remember the comments of their member Ryan Mauro. He is described by the US-based SPLC below: –

Mauro peddles the types of conspiracy theories prevalent in Clarion’s films. He has promoted the false narrative of “no-go zones” for non-Muslims in Europe. Mauro also told Fox News host Megyn Kelly that there are growing Muslim enclaves in the U.S. where gangs of Islamic extremists are “patrolling” neighborhoods and enforcing the tenants of Shariah law.

Journalist Sarah Lazare explored Clarion’s ‘anti-Muslim hate videos‘ and their ‘dubious model of radicalisation’, borrowed from New Atheist Sam Harris, writing: –

Among the group’s board members is Frank Gaffney, described in the Hill as an “anti-Muslim conspiracist.” According to journalists Terri Johnson and Richard Cohen, “One of his regular conspiracy theories is that American Muslims are using a tactic he calls ‘stealth jihad’ to infiltrate the U.S. government, and he’s said everyone from Hillary Clinton to Grover Norquist is secretly supporting this agenda.”

This dubious concept which relies on concentric circles from Jihadis, to Islamists, to Fundamentalists, is spoken about at some length in Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s book which I review here.

One has to wonder whether the Clarion Project, full as it is with anti-Muslim conspiracists, is the type of organisation Google should be subsidising with free promotion via it’s AdWords project.

 

About Abdul-Azim Ahmed

Dr Abdul-Azim Ahmed is Editor of On Religion magazine. He holds a doctorate in religious studies and an MA in Islam in Contemporary Britain.