The FBI is postponing the debut of an unusual game-style website aimed at preventing young people from joining terrorist groups–because Muslim and Arab groups are complaining.
National news reports state that the online program, titled “Don’t Be a Puppet,” was scheduled to be released Nov. 9., but is now on hold. The program targets young people with information on how to spot a radical extremist online, and there are hopes by some it would halt youth radicalization and recruitment of American youth for terrorism. The FBI wants the program to be used in schools, with teachers guiding students through the game-like format.
Muslim and Arab advocacy groups, which were selected by the FBI to be a part of the community panel reviewing the program, said they have many concerns. The biggest concern was that the government wants students and teachers to become informants, according to Muslim and Arab advocacy officials.
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“It seems like they’re asking teachers to be extensions of law enforcement and to police thought, and students as well. That was very concerning to us all,” said Hoda Hawa, director of policy and advocacy for the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).
Arjun S. Sethi, a law professor at Georgetown Univeristy, said in an interview with a national publication that the program has a fatal flaw.
“The program is based on flawed theories of radicalization, namely that individuals radicalize in the exact same way and it’s entirely discernible…” Sethi said.
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The official FBI statement is that the program is “designed to provide awareness about the dangers of violent extremist predators on the Internet…” It has said little else regarding details of the program.
The FBI is concerned with youth being radicalized. FBI Director James B. Comey said agents have handled more than 900 cases of homegrown extremists, and most of them are connected to ISIS. He said the recruiting efforts of terrorists aren’t just trying to lure youth to go overseas, but are also seeking to convince them to commit violent acts in the United States.
“That buzz all day long in your pocket, come or kill, come or kill, come or kill, has a tremendous impact on the troubled mind,” Comey said.
The FBI has arrested many young people since the Islamic State was designated a terrorist organization in 2014. Many of those arrested were swayed with online propaganda, according to Comey.
Reaching young people through public school systems can be done, but officials must be careful on how the program is implemented to be effective, according to Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s program on extremism.
“Schools can be an important space in spotting and combating radicalization, as teachers are often best positioned to see concerning signs. Of course this needs to be done right, with proper training, respect of civil liberties and without stigmatizing,” Hughes said
The FBI plans to tell schools that the program is available; and interested schools would use it in civics, social studies and government classes, according to information given to participants at the meeting discussing the program. The FBI has allowed some teachers and students in northern Virginia to preview the program and has received some commitments from school districts. Estimates given to those at the meeting are that around 400,000 youths will use the site once it goes online.
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