The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is a nonprofit NGO that combats extremist groups "by pressuring financial support networks, countering the narrative of extremists and their online recruitment, and advocating for strong laws, policies and regulations."
CEP was formally launched on September 22, 2014 by top former government officials, including former Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend, former Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, and Mark Wallace, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. The mission of the organization is to fight global extremism, with an initial goal of disrupting the financing and online recruitment and propaganda of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The group is modeled on United Against Nuclear Iran, an advocacy group led by Wallace which has had success in contributing to the economic pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran. Other prominent board members include Gary Samore, August Hanning, Dennis Ross, and Irwin Cotler.
CEP launched its "Digital Disruption Campaign" to remove accounts associated with ISIS from social media networks in order to deny them popular platforms to incite violence, spread their message, and recruit members. The campaign has particularly focused on Twitter, calling on the company to adopt new policies to prevent extremists such as ISIS from misusing their platform, as well as identifying ISIS accounts and alerting Twitter to remove them. The campaign has led to death threats such as beheading against CEP President Fran Townsend on Twitter from jihadist accounts.
On September 28, 2015, CEP co-hosted the first Global Youth Summit Against Violent Extremism with the U.S. Department of State and Search for Common Ground at The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. The event "drew more than 80 youth leaders from 45 countries with the objective of developing outreach and social-media intervention initiatives that can be shared globally." Senior U.S. government officials who addressed the attendees included U.S. Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel, and Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewall. The summit also featured presentations from Facebook and Microsoft. A panel of judges at the summit awarded $100,000 to youth activist programs it believed would have the greatest impact.
In June 2016, CEP unveiled a software tool for use by Internet and social media companies to "quickly find and eliminate extremist content used to spread and incite violence and attacks." CEP Senior Advisor Hany Farid, a Dartmouth college computer scientist, developed the software. It functions similarly to PhotoDNA, a system that uses robust hashing technology Farid worked on developing with Microsoft, which is "now widely used by Internet companies to stop the spread of content showing sexual exploitation or pornography involving children."
To operationalize this new technology to combat extremism, CEP proposed the creation of a National Office for Reporting Extremism (NORex), which would house a comprehensive database of extremist content and function similar to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). The White House has signaled its support for this initiative. Lisa Monaco, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said, "We welcome the launch of initiatives such as the Counter Extremism Project’s National Office for Reporting Extremism (NORex) that enables companies to address terrorist activity on their platforms and better respond to the threat posed by terrorists’ activities online." Wallace stated that if this system were to be adopted by social media companies and the private sector, it "would go a long way to making sure than online extremist is no longer pervasive."
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