Countering online terrorism: If Nike and Coca-Cola can use advertising to reach their target market, why can’t we?
Vidhya Ramalingam, founder of Moonshot CVE, discussed the ability of using advertising to track extremists online and counter their activity through the use of alternative content at the annual Fortune Most Powerful Women International Summit in London.
Speaking about Moonshot CVE, a company that uses technology to disrupt and counter violent extremism globally, Ramalingham claimed “we need innovation in order to respond”, to “offer them alternative options and disrupt their organisation in the online space”.
By using the infrastructure of Google Search, where “Nike uses advertising to reach people who are searching for a new pair of sneakers and Coca-Cola uses it to reach people who are searching for information about soda”, she suggested harnessing the power of advertising to track potential extremists, intercept them with alternative content, and grant them the opportunity to change.
Discussing the use of commercial methods to track this group, she asked: “can we not use advertising – a very simple commercial method – to reach them?”
When questioned by Fortune’s Maithreyi Seetharaman, she said: “We are living in a post-Cambridge Analytical era, where we are all very aware of how data can be misused and abused”. She claimed the online space is “an opportunity for us to make good use of publicly available information to piece together a puzzle of individuals that are leaving us clues and letting us know that they are getting involved in these behaviours.
Every single person who is engaging with extremist content online – unless they are incredibly clued up about their own digital privacy – they often leave behind a trail of clues, a digital footprint, that lets us know they are getting involved in this sort of activity.”
Using advertising and the online space to intercept interest in terrorist activity and dangerous groups, she said “we can use this not only to analyse them as an audience and try and understand them, but to reach them and also then to track our impact and offer them an alternative form of content once we have engaged with them in a conversation in the online space.”
Stressing the importance of considering the context of an individual’s interest in such material, she claimed that her research has shown “the turning points that get people out are very similar” and “that’s why, in the online space, it gets very exciting because we have now developed technology which allows us to identify, at scale, people getting involved”.