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Brits use SEO strategies to fight terrorism

The United Kingdom plans to coach moderate Islamic groups on how to manipulate Google rankings in the online fight against radicalization--or radical impressions--of the religion.

Islam is getting a little help from Britain's Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism, which says it plans to train government-approved groups to "flood the Internet" with "positive" interpretations of that religion in an online fight against radicalization.

The OSCT plans to coach moderate Islamic groups on how to manipulate the Google rankings of their Web sites in order to boost the online profile of moderate voices in the Muslim community, reports The Register, a British online investigative newspaper.

International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation

It is widely understood that terrorists use the Web to radicalize and recruit the vulnerable and disaffected; search engine optimization, or SEO, training is part of the campaign to counter this, a Home Office representative confirmed to The Register. "In order to support mainstream voices, we work with local partners to help develop their communication, representational, and leadership skills."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith elaborated on the agency's plans.

"We will host a core network of people, who will put forward positive messages from the British Muslim community on the Internet, directly challenging the extremists that set out to groom vulnerable individuals," she said.

SEO strategies that push Web sites to the front of the Google ranking algorithm line are regularly employed by online retailers and news media outlets. How well they will work to divert tech-savvy, disgruntled Muslim youth from adopting a terrorist mentality is questionable, according to at least one think tank.

"Tweaking the results for supposedly extremist terms would be largely ineffectual, not least because it is unlikely that any but the most callow wannabe terrorist would use a mainstream search engine to find banned material," according to a report (PDF) by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).

Still, it may be a better approach than removing or blocking material altogether. "Any strategy that relies on reducing the availability of content alone is bound to be crude, expensive, and counterproductive," the ICSR reported. "Radicalisation is largely a real-world phenomenon that cannot be dealt with simply by 'pulling the plug.'"