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“Terror groups are winning the online battle with extreme content dominating in search engines. Our latest study confirms a worsening landscape and still nothing is being done defensively let alone proactively.”Dave King, CEO Digitalis Reputation

The Centre on Religion & Geopolitics and Digitalis Reputation Research Paper March 2017

Online radicalisation is increasing and continues to go unchallenged. Research into online radicalisation has mainly focused on two areas of enquiry: the role of social media and ISIS' activity online. However, by the time extremist material is posted online, it is often too late and radicalisation has already taken place.

Our research sheds light on how accessible extremist content is outside of social media, with a particular focus on the role played by the search engine Google. The key findings are listed below:

  • Extremist content on search engines is prominent and dominant.
  • Counter-narrative efforts appear in just 5% of the total of the searches.
  • Having tracked the results between May 2016 and March 2017, it is evident that prominence and dominance of extremist content is on an upward trajectory

The focus on social media, as well as the deep and dark web and how ISIS is harnessing these, has dominated the conversation. Not enough attention has been paid to the wider online landscape, where a broad array of extremist material has flourished unchallenged.

We looked at the first two search engine results pages for 47 key words to determine rankings of extremist and counter-narrative content, looking at a total of 870 web pages in 33 regions. The findings showed that:

  • Non-violent content by Islamist groups on search engines functions as bait, and is both dominant and prominent.
  • Attention on online extremism has focused on violent material and a handful of groups. However, there is an entire spectrum of non-violent content online, which expresses ideas that undermine the rule of law and spread intolerant attitudes. This includes non-violent Islamist groups who call for the downfall of democratic systems and the introduction of a caliphate.

Worsening of the situation
The original data was gathered in May 2016. Almost a year later, in March 2017, the data showed that the situation has deteriorated so that for some key words extremist content has experienced a 35% increase in dominance on page one.

Countering extremist content
Counter efforts must adopt a proactive approach and seek to drown out extremist content, rather than focusing solely on removing it. Currently, these continue to remain minimal with little visibility in the Google search listings, leaving the extremist content unchallenged.

To read the full report, please click here