FBI Game for Extremist Identification Takes Flak

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is considering the launch of a new interactive program geared toward training teachers and students to help prevent young people from joining violent extremist groups.  However, Muslim, Arab, and other religious and civil rights leaders strongly object the program, arguing that it places too much focus on Islamic extremism, which they say is not a major factor in the school shootings and other attacks throughout the United States.

The program, an interactive multimedia microsite called “Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism,” uses games and tips to teach the user how to identify someone who could potentially be likely to join an extremist group.  Each time a correct answer is given, scissors cut a string holding up the puppet until finally it is free.

The site features five sections, each with its own puppet in need of freeing through a series of reading material, videos, and mini-games.  Aside from the game where the player must guide a goat through a two-dimensional obstacle course, most of the activities center around quizzes or matching exercising dealing with what was just read.  Once completed, the player receives a certificate that can be printed.

While the game previously focused on Islam, that changed after it received increasing criticism over the premise.  The game now tries to portray an equal opportunity view on extremism.  In one activity that asks the user to find the “extremist” message using imaginary social media feeds used to hold the correct answer of a man with an Arab name inviting someone to join their “mission,” it is now a man named “Alex Wu.”

As part of the campaign against terrorist groups such as Islamic State, law enforcement agencies have been hard at work finding ways to identify those likely to join such organizations.  However, Laurie Goodstein for The New York Times reports that the new online tool suggests that it remains unclear who should be involved in finding and reporting these suspects, as well as how to draw the line between prevention and racial or religious profiling.

FBI agent Eric Metz said the internet allows terror groups to recruit around the world, adding that groups in the Middle East can contact teens across the globe and generate interest in their organization.  Metz added that the groups tend to target teens who are vulnerable and looking for answers, reports Derrick Rose for WHAS.

Metz went on to say that there is no formula to use when seeking out potential recruits, adding that the program focuses more on the who, what, and why.

“There is no one answer, no checklist, we don’t want people to feel like there is a checklist, this is all about awareness.”

However, not everyone agrees the game is useful, with suggestions that it should not be up to teachers and students to identify such individuals.

“Teachers in classrooms should not become an extension of law enforcement,” said Arjun S. Sethi, an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center.  “The program is based on flawed theories of radicalization, namely that individuals radicalize in the exact same way and it’s entirely discernible,” he said. “But it’s not, and the F.B.I. is basically asking teachers and students to suss these things out.”

Kristin Decarr

Kristin Decarr

Kristin Decarr

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