Stadtratte

U.S. Troops on Base Less Likely to Seek Extremist Content Than Americans in General, Study Finds

Service branches differ in their engagement with anti-Black extremism or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, internet research firm says in upcoming report.

The Defense Department will soon know which bases and branches have the most troops looking for domestic violent extremist content. The next step is figuring out how to stop it. 

The data is expected to arrive in about three weeks in a report from the U.S. Military Academy and Moonshot, a startup founded in 2015 to spot people searching online for violent extremist information and direct them to helpful resources instead.

Moonshot founder Vidhya Ramalingam declined to detail the findings in the report. But she said the data suggest that active duty troops are less prone than the American public as a whole to seek out information about violent extremism. 

“When we look at bases for each branch as compared to national averages, there is disproportionately low engagement on most bases,” Ramalingam said. “Some branches have higher levels of engagement with anti-Black extremism or anti-Semitic conspiracy theories...But we’re not seeing really heightened levels of engagement that are incredibly worrying.” 

The Biden administration released the first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism last week. Under that order, the Pentagon is working to sharpen its definition of extremism, and clarify what consequences troops might face for different actions. It’s not clear how widespread extremism is in the military, but at least 50 troops are facing charges over their involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. 

Moonshot’s report on extremism in the ranks will quantify the problem by geolocating search data to determine on which bases troops are searching for violent extremist content. Ramalingam said search data is a great statistic to evaluate because unlike social media, it’s not performative and people may search for things they aren’t comfortable talking about with friends. The data, which will all be anonymized and can’t be traced back to a particular person, will show which bases and which branches have the most people searching for this type of information online.

The data can help the Pentagon know where it has the greatest problem, but that knowledge alone will not solve the issue.

Moonshot, which is already working with the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, also has tools that the government can use to get help to people searching for violent content online. Ramalingam said she’s had conversations with individual service branches and the broader department, including a meeting with the Pentagon’s top diversity officer Bishop Garrison a month ago, on how the department can harness the technology her company uses to find and eliminate extremism in the ranks. 

The company aims to redirect people looking for violent extremist content online. For example, if someone searches on the internet for how to join the Ku Klux Klan, they might see a search result for counseling services, tools to learn how to critically examine media, or a suggestion to deescalate emotions running high. Moonshot primarily uses ad markers on social media and search results to reach those actively searching for violence and intervene. 

Some of their most successful efforts have used emotions to appeal to those looking for violent content, Ramalingam said. For example, the most successful ad they tested said “anger and grief can be isolating.” The company also offers mindfulness exercises to people searching on the internet for violent extremist content. Between November 2020 and February 2021, someone searching for content about white supremacism, armed groups, or conspiracy theories on YouTube watched a de-escalation breathing exercise all the way through more than half a million times.

Ramalingam said there’s some evidence that these interventions are having a lasting effect. People looking for violent extremist and disinformation content between January 2021 and March 2021 engaged more than 70,000 times with a crisis counseling website. Of those, 15 percent came back to the same website later on their own. 

Moonshot has a staff of about 50 people based in London, though the company has worked in the United States since its founding six years ago. But the prevalence of violent extremism is increasing so quickly in America that Ramalingam says she is opening a Washington-based office that’s expected to have 18 people by the end of the year.

“The launch of the D.C. office came for a few reasons, one of which is that the need for the work here just dramatically grew in the last year,” she said. “The scale of the audience is so large that we couldn’t justify not being here.” 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.