In recent years, it has become painfully obvious that online propaganda is a dangerous tool at the disposal of groups like ISIL to further hateful and radical ideologies. Because these are often the types of places that often radicalize so-called “lone-wolfs” it is imperative that we be able to locate and if possible disrupt these sites. UConn operations and information management professor Ugochukwu Etudo is aiming to reverse this trend, creating software that can help to identify websites, with 87 percent accuracy up to this point, that promote these radical ideologies.
Etudo’s software is programmed to detect warning signs based on word sequences and negative tones, and is able to review a site exponentially faster than a human could. His software is also able to explore domains that don’t have a formal web address (aka the dark web) as well as normal websites.
In recent years, the vast majority of terrorist attacks in the United States have been of a lone-wolf nature. Whether it has been far-right extremists like Dylan Roof or individuals linked to ISIL, attacks have by and large not been the product of a large organized conspiracy like the World Trade Center attacks but instead the work of individuals often motivated by hateful ideology. In the United States, at least, it appears we have much more to fear from the effect a radical website can have on a single person than what a large scale group can do.
If we truly care about stopping these attacks, then we must focus more on modernized intelligence gathering. Traditional intelligence techniques will often not pinpoint lone-wolfs until it is far too late, as we have learned to our great sorrow time and again.
Of course, as with any new intelligence gathering technique, it is imperative to proceed with caution. It is not necessarily illegal to have the beliefs expressed in many of these sites, although it may mean that you are likely a jerk. Professor Etudo has stipulated that he doesn’t believe law enforcement should be breaking down the door of anyone who visits or posts on these sites. Rather, his software will be able to identify potentially dangerous locations on the internet that analysts can then closely monitor. If anything extremely concerning occurs, appropriate steps can then be taken. This research could be vital for identifying possible targets of attacks and learning about the rationale of those who commit these horrible acts.