Software used to stop violent messages sent online by ISIS and the far right is being adapted to stop the spread of anti-vaxx misinformation.
Moonshot CVE, a company which uses techniques to identify and intervene in cases of people being radicalised online, has developed its technology to counter ISIS, the KKK in the US, and the far right in Europe.
The company’s ‘redirect method,’ which involves the use of online advertising targeted at people searching for extremism-linked keywords, is now being turned to the problem of vaccine hesitancy.
Vaccine hesitancy, which was identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the 10 greatest threats to global health this year, is the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines.
With mistrust and misinformation surrounding vaccinations growing, the anti-vaxx movement has gained traction in recent years. As such, measles – a highly contagious but preventable disease – has seen a 30 per cent increase in cases globally.
The model being developed by Moonshot typically identifies those at risk of being drawn into violent extremism before ‘signposting’ them elsewhere – for example, to counselling, job opportunities, and counter narratives.
The co-founder of the company, Ross Frenett, told The Guardian:
When an individual is engaging with violent extremist content online, they might be searching for this content on Google or posting this content on Facebook. They’ll see an advertisement, or receive a direct message, which offers counselling or social support.
This is an entry for us. If we can get that person into a one-on-one conversation with a social worker, that’s the starting point for longer-term change.
However, most recently the company’s founders have been expanding the model’s focus to respond to what it describes as ‘other destructive communities online’.
Examples of these destructive communities, the company’s founders explained, are those spreading anti-vaccination theories, those involved in human trafficking, and those susceptible to gang violence.
Vidhya Ramalingam, a specialist on far right extremism who also co-founded the company, said:
The internet can be used to spread dangerous behaviours and ideas, but there is an opportunity for us to get creative and use technology to solve some of the world’s most complex problems.
The company also works with non-governmental organisations to run digital campaigns, which might include sending messages to vulnerable individuals.
Current campaigns include a pilot intervention in south Asia, where it’s been building an app which will help a local mental health organisation mentor those at risk of being drawn into extremism.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).