Do counter-extremism programs work? A large amount of effort has gone into creating Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs at the national, local and international level. Some are funded by the state, some try and actively engage with individuals deemed at risk of radicalization, while others focus on placing counter-messaging content in front of people searching for extremist content, such as jihadist videos.

There’s a broader free speech question at play here, namely what counts as extremism and who should be in charge of making that determination. Tech CEOs, whose expertise lies in coding and innovation rather than in public policy, have so far seen the burden fall largely to them, assisted by a bevy of mostly left-wing NGOs.

Lunacy Now covered this yesterday in documenting the Sargon of Akkad controversy to contextualize our interview with the crypto-based crowdfunding platform BitBacker.

But putting aside the (important) questions of censorship, the first amendment and control of the public sphere, does CVE even work?

A new report “Assessing Outcomes of Online Campaigns Countering Violent Extremism” by the RAND Corporation addresses exactly that. The report, authored by Todd Helmus and Kurt Klein, looks at a method that redirects internet users searching for jihadist content towards pre-approved counter-extremist messages. The program was run by Jigsaw, a subsidiary of Google, in collaboration with the counter-extremism organizations Gen Next Foundation and Moonshot CVE.

The whole report is available here.

The report goes into considerable detail and shows how effective the various campaigns were at reaching a large number of people. However, one salient point emerges. It is very difficult to tell how effective, if at all, such methods are at actually changing anyone’s mind.

They can measure how many people clicked on a Facebook ad. But without direct engagement, it is very hard to tell how people responded to a given post.

Some programs had more detailed feedback than others, especially ones which allowed comments. One program saw eight individuals reach out to the post-extremism group Life After Hate after exposure to messaging from Exit USA.

Lunacy Now takes a different approach. In partnership with interfaith activist Shireen Qudosi, we are running an interfaith festival which prioritizes open dialogue. We have no ideological redlines for participation, and are not running this in the service of any state.

Toke for Tolerance aims to bring people together to talk about their fears and hopes surrounding issues of extremism and inter-group tension.

If we can’t know how effective CVE programs are, maybe sitting down and talking to one other could work.

Sign up to the Toke for Tolerance waitlist now to avoid missing out on tickets.

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