We tested the Redirect Method in an ISIS-focused campaign in Arabic and English. Over the course of 8 weeks, 320,000 individuals watched over half a million minutes of the 116 videos we selected to refute ISIS's recruiting themes. The Redirect Method is open for any institution to use in their work - Read on to learn about how we’ve used it in this campaign.
Between August and September 2015, we worked with several research partners with knowledge of ISIS’s worldview and online materials in order to:
Interview ISIS defectors and once-aspiring ‘jihadi brides’ to glean insights into our audience’s online behaviors.
Map the major narratives ISIS uses to draw people in and mobilize them to action.
Survey YouTube for existing videos that are effective at countering those narratives.
We found an abundance of videos to support our project and our focus of the research was on seeking out videos that appeared to be neutral in intention--including documentaries or citizen journalist footage that portray the world as the creators found it, rather than materials that appear specifically designed to counter ISIS. To get there, we used keyword searches to identify “hidden” counter-argument content -- that is, videos that are not necessarily well known, and often that were not designed with the explicit intention of refuting ISIS. We also found that video content featuring prominent individuals whose contributions deliberately contradict ISIS’s messaging were also helpful.
· Good Governance ISIS showcases not only its bureaucratic structure and provision of social services, but also its harsh implementation of sharia.
· Military Might A narrative designed to display ISIS’s battlefield victories in order to portray it as an unstoppable force. The group depicts itself as possessing continuous momentum, and its message to its enemies is that they faced capture, torture, humiliation, and death.
· Religious Legitimacy ISIS depicts its interpretation of Islam as the only authentic manifestation of the faith. ISIS argues that its alleged re-establishment of the caliphate made all competing states and organizations null and void under God’s law.
· Call to Jihad Emphasizes the individual duty to either emigrate to the “caliphate” or carry out local terrorist attacks in ISIS’s name. This messaging portrays ISIS fighters as heroes, their days as packed with action, camaraderie, and glory.
· Victimhood of the Umma (The umma is the worldwide body of Muslims) This narrative depicts outside powers conspiring to harm, subjugate, and disempower Muslims throughout the globe.
We focused our survey on videos that were objective in appearance rather than materials that appeared specifically designed to counter ISIS. We used keyword searches to identify “hidden” counter-argument content -- that is, videos that are not necessarily well known, and often not designed explicitly to refute ISIS. The following major categories contain credible, authentic voices:
Citizen Journalism and Documentary Footage News content created by members of the general population, documentarians and journalists. This includes videos by those who reside in ISIS-controlled territory who document ISIS’s atrocities toward civilians and failed governance efforts. They portray the world as the creators found it.
Religious Debate Videos featuring clerics and other religious figures who refute violent extremist narratives, and seek to undercut ISIS’s religious legitimacy.
ISIS Defectors Videos highlighting the testimonies of ISIS defectors whose actual experiences undercut ISIS’s recruitment narratives, and reveal the group’s shortcomings and hypocrisy.
We needed to organize the best online videos from the research into “Playlists” that can live on YouTube “Channels” Moonshot CVE & Quantum Communications created two YouTube channels, one in English, one in Arabic, to host themed playlists featuring a selection of the videos debunking ISIS recruiting narratives.
They sent a message through the platform to all the YouTube creators whose content was curated within a playlist to provide high level context about the Pilot and ensured that the ordering of the videos within each playlist made for a compelling storyline. For example:
We found plenty of authentic, credible, powerful and relevant video content to curate. Our campaigns resulted in the 116 videos used in the playlist being watched for 500,070 minutes.
Both partners created an elaborate targeting framework that was continually refined throughout the 8-week pilot. For the Arabic campaigns, Quantum created 60 ad campaigns comprising 150 unique ads and over 1,500 keywords. For the English campaign, Moonshot CVE created 30 ad campaigns comprising 95 unique ads and over 1,000 keywords. The keyword generation was focused on terms suggesting positive sentiment towards ISIS.
Moonshot CVE and Quantum Communications each created an AdWords advertising account in English and Arabic to house our ads and targeting criteria. The objective with the ads design was to anticipate and reflect the interests of the target audience. The designers involved in this campaign reviewed ISIS media material in order to understand its distinctive look and feel. The ad campaign comprised three formats:
Our targeting strategy relied entirely on selecting a robust set of keywords that would allow us to reach our audience and mirror the content curated on the playlists. To generate the initial keywords (“seed keywords”) we worked with former violent extremists, researchers and online advertising specialists.
The keyword generation was focused on terms suggesting positive sentiment towards ISIS, for instance:
Our keyword creation work-stream combined qualitative human input with AdWords automated tools. The Keyword Planner tool was used to expand seed keyword lists, by allowing it to suggest relevant synonyms, variations, and additional keywords from the same cohort. For instance, the seed keyword “Al Furqan Foundation” led to suggestions like “Furqan Media Agency”, and “Al Itisam Media”.
After the Pilot went live, the focus shifted to optimization. Targeting was improved by prioritizing keywords that indicated a nuanced understanding of ISIS narratives. For example, the phrase “What is jihad?” was supplemented with phrases such as “Fatwa for jihad in Syria”, “Mohamad Hassan Jihad Fatwa.”, “Ibn Taymiyah Fatwa”.
Additions to the keyword lists reflected new developments in the conflict surrounding ISIS — for example, “Amaq News” was included as a keyword in March, 2016, when ISIS used the outlet to claim responsibility for the Brussels attacks.
We used campaign metrics provided by AdWords, and Youtube Analytics, along with third party research vendor Tubular Labs who offered methodologies to measure impact by looking at the public comments under the YouTube videos included in the campaign.
REACH | The reach of most awareness campaigns is gauged by the number of unique users who ‘saw’ the ads. Because in this pilot our goal was not just awareness, but actual engagement, we chose to measure the reach of our campaigns by the number of unique users who ‘clicked’ on the ads, not just ‘saw’ them.
The campaigns reached an estimate of 320,906 Unique Users who chose to click on our ads across the different touchpoints of the campaign: Search, Google Display Network, and YouTube: Est. 263,001 unique clickers from the Arabic campaign, and est. 57,905 unique clickers from the English campaign.
ENGAGEMENT | Click Through Rate is one of the most widely used online advertising metrics to gauge campaigns’ engagement. It’s a ratio showing how often people who see an ad end up clicking it.
Average CTRs vary widely according to the industry of campaign, type of ad, precision of targeting, overall campaign objectives, and many other factors. The average Search CTR of all ads that ran against similar search terms in the 12 months prior to pilot launch was 2.41% for Arabic-language, and 1.73% for English language: these metrics can serve as a potential benchmark to evaluate our Search CTR.
We reached our target audience.
Some of the comments our video ads received showed that we reached users who are sympathetic towards ISIS.
Targeting using keywords works.
We compared the Click-Through-Rates of our keywords to establish which ones were the most relevant for our audience. The highest rates of engagement with our ads came from users searching for official ISIS content in both English and Arabic (eg. Dabiq magazine, Furqan Media, Hayat Media, Amaq news..etc).