Digital Strategies to Counter Violent Extremism

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Clara Tsao — the Chief Technology Officer at the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Task Force at the Department of Homeland Security where she is exploring the importance of the crowdsource community to develop measures to help counter violent extremism online — is the keynote speaker at ReDev Boston 2018. We had the chance to chat with her about her work.

Briefly, what is the CVE Task Force? What organizations/agencies are involved?

The US Countering Violent Extremism Task Force (CVE) was established in by the White House in January 2016 to coordinate the CVE mission across domestic Departments and Agencies (FBI, Department of Justice, the National Counterterrorism Center), specifically focusing on four lines of effort – Research and Analysis, Interventions, Engagements and Technical Assistance, and my focus area, Digital Strategies and Communications.

What are your responsibilities as CTO in the CVE?

I entered US Government in March 2016 as a  Presidential Innovation Fellow, a program focused on pairing innovators with top civil servants and changemakers working at the highest levels of the federal government to tackle some our nation’s biggest challenges. Terrorist use of social media is one of these issues.  At the CVE Task Force, I work with a variety of partners in government, in the private sector, and in communities to implement policy, plans, digital products, and strategies to counter violent extremism online. 

What are the technologies/digital tools that the CVE is using in its work?

We have approached countering violent extremism online with the following three buckets of responses: 

1. Counter / Alternative Narratives.  This response entails either challenging narratives directly or providing alternative options.  The US Government is active in this area overseas, but this is limited domestically. 

2. Information Sharing. 
Initiatives in information sharing have focused on expanding government, private sector, and community understanding of radicalization and violent extremism in order to identify and prevent it.  This includes tools such as developing “Social Media Community Awareness Briefings” that are used to inform the technology sector about the threat of terrorist recruitment online and, more important, to catalyze efforts to counter it and conferences such as the Digital Forum on Terrorism Prevention, which we organized in September 2017 and February 2018 to allow stakeholders to discuss successes and failures in this space. 

3. Catalyzing Non-Governmental Solutions. 
Modern technology tools are incredibility difficult to build within the US Government. By combining the talents of communities, NGOs, and the technology sector, there is enormous opportunity to help spur non-governmental responses to violent extremism that are more authentic, scalable, and sustainable. 

Explain how AI/machine learning are helping identify radicalization efforts and crafting responses?

A number of technology startups in the CVE space, such as Omelas, Moonshot CVE, Graphika, and New Knowledge, are leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques to train computational models around macro-level patterns in violent extremist activity online. These tools support network analysis and the identification of proper indicators which can help researchers and governments understand patterns in online radicalization. 

You can hear more from Clara Tsao at ReDev Boston on May 16th.