Microsoft partners with Institute for Strategic Dialogue and NGOs to discourage online radicalization to violence

Apr 18, 2017   |   Microsoft Corporate Blogs

As outlined in our blog post from last year, Microsoft wants to do its part to help address the use of technology to promote terrorism. That’s why we’re pleased to announce that we’re partnering with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) on a pilot project to better enable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to surface and serve impactful counter-narrative content via advertisements on Bing. Our hope is that this collaboration will help us and NGOs to better understand the problem, devise an effective and proportionate response, and offer individuals a positive alternative to violence and extremism.

As part of this pilot, Microsoft is providing the institute with in-kind funding to serve ads on Bing. The ads will appear in response to certain searches that relate to extremism, and will test the efficacy of different types of messaging and video content selected to deter people from radicalization. Microsoft has also provided the institute with an operating grant to recruit and train other NGOs to participate in the program. ISD will share learnings from the pilot and offer best practices so other NGOs can explore delivering their counter and alternative messages via search-engine advertising.

How the program will work

When Bing users enter a query from a defined list of terrorism- and extremism-related search terms, they’ll see video links to diverse counter-narrative content within the ads section at the top of the results page. These videos will offer content including testimonials of former violent extremists that help bring to life the reality that others have experienced inside known extremist organizations, along with information about alternative pathways. During the year-long pilot, we hope the institute and other NGOs will demonstrate that messaging, content and search-marketing tactics can generate impact by diverting vulnerable people, including young adults, away from a path toward online radicalization and violence.

The first set of ads will be targeted to a U.K. audience, and in English. ISD will then expand the program to include ads targeting a broader set of audiences, in English as well as Arabic.

“We’re excited to be partnering with Microsoft on this project, which will enable us not only to look deeper into the type of messaging that has impact with those searching for extremist and terrorist content, but also to learn what search marketing tactics are the most effective at directing vulnerable individuals towards this alternative content,” said Sasha Havlicek, CEO at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. “The findings of this pilot will help NGOs to deliver more effective counter-narrative campaigns to those most at risk.”

Microsoft’s anti-terrorism content policy persists for hosted consumer services

Bing and ISD’s collaboration is a new effort, separate from Microsoft’s policy that prohibits terrorism-related content on our hosted consumer services, which is not changing. Last year we explained how we define terrorist content, emphasized our prohibition against posting it on these services, and amended our Code of Conduct to explicitly note this proscription. We also said that we would continue to observe a “notice-and-takedown” approach: when terrorist content is brought to our attention on our hosted consumer services, we will remove it.

Last December, we joined with three other companies – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – in a coalition to create an industry hash-sharing database of the most violent terrorism imagery. Given our policy, our intention is to hash and contribute to the industry database those images and videos that are reported to us and are identified as terrorist content on our hosted consumer services.

Learn more

Our partnership with ISD is by no means a silver bullet, but we think it is a step in the right direction. With ISD’s team of experts at the helm, we all hope to learn a great deal, and we expect to refine and improve the program as we go. To learn more about countering violent extremism, visit the ISD website. For more on online safety generally, go to www.microsoft.com/saferonline.