Feeds

Whitehall to train pro-West Islamic groups to game Google

Experts say it won't work

The essential guide to IT transformation

Exclusive Whitehall officials will train pro-West Islamic groups to manipulate their Google search ranking in an attempt to drown out extremist voices online, The Register has learned.

The policy is being developed despite recent warnings from a group of international experts on radicalisation that such strategies are likely to be "largely ineffectual".

The Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a 200-strong Home Office unit created 18 months ago, has said in meetings it wants to "flood the internet" with "positive" interpretations of Islam. It plans to train government-approved groups in search engine optimisation techniques, which it's hoped will boost their profile online and battle radicalisation.

Organisations such as Quilliam, which describes itself as "the world's first counter-extremism think tank" and is jointly led by former radical Ed Husain, have been identified as potential beneficiaries of the work. A spokesman for the group declined to comment.

Officials are currently understood to be in the early stages of the programme.

A Home Office spokesman confirmed search engine optimisation training is part of the government's anti-radicalisation strategy. "In order to support mainstream voices, we work with local partners to help develop their communication, representational and leadership skills," he said.

"This support could include media training, which can help make their voices heard more widely, and support the development of skills which allow communities to be more effective in debate."

The effectiveness of search engine optimisation in reducing traffic to extremist websites has been dismissed by academics however. In March, a report produced by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) said young Muslims were much more likely to be directed to extremist material online by web forums and offline associates than by Google or other search engines.

"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," the authors wrote. ICSR is a collaboration between British, American, Israeli and Jordanian universities.

The embattled Home Secretary Jacqui Smith recently launched the government's updated counter-terror strategy, CONTEST 2, which put heavy emphasis on countering extremist views. In December she said: "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."

The OSCT plans to help Islamic groups manipulate their Google rankings appear to be a part of that "direct challenge". The Home and Foreign Offices also set up the secretive Research, Information and Communications Unit, which actively produces and distributes propaganda against extremist groups.

Search engine optimisation techniques are used widely by news organisations and online merchants to make websites more attractive to Google's ranking algorithm. They are broadly classified into legitimate "white hat" manipulation methods such as using common keywords in page titles, and "black hat" methods, which try to trick search engines into giving undeservedly high rankings.

When Google detects black hat methods it bans the page from its index, as it did to the German website of car maker BMW in 2006. ®

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

More from The Register

next story
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.