France launches website to counter jihadist propaganda

French society examines roots of homegrown terror
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Story highlights

  • The website borrows the methods of online jihadist recruiters to debunk their message
  • Family and friends concerned about radicalization are urged to call a toll free number

Paris (CNN)The French government launched an online platform Wednesday to counter jihadist propaganda, just three weeks after deadly terror attacks which claimed 17 lives in Paris.

The target audience is families and friends of young people at risk of radicalization, young people themselves, and the wider public, according to a government news release.
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Entitled "Stop jihadism," the website opens with a two-minute video which borrows the kind of visual codes normally employed by cyber jihadists: violent images sometimes punctuated by an ISIS flag on a Facebook page.
Then a message from a "recruiter" pops up, written in French slang:
"Hi. Cool stuff that you like, does it interest you what is happening in the Levant at the moment? If you have questions don't hesitate, the truth is over there, it is now that we must leave! If you want more information give me your number I have friends there that fight I will put you in contact."
Then the video debunks, point by point, common arguments used by cyber recruiters:
  • They tell you: "Sacrifice yourself with us, you will defend a just cause."
  • In reality: You will discover hell on earth and die alone, away from home.
  • They tell you: "Come start a family with one of our heroes."
  • In reality: You will raise your children in war and terror.
  • They tell you: "Join us and come help Syrian children."
  • In reality: You will be an accomplice in the massacre of civilians.
Each point is underlined on the screen by images of violence and suffering.
After the video, users are directed to the website's homepage, where they can find out more about the terrorist threat, the government's response, how to debunk jihadist propaganda and how French people can join together against the threat.
A toll-free number for "prevention of radicalization" is provided for families and friends who notice alarming signals such as "a sudden change of dietary habits" or "the rejection of family members."

'It's not just cosmetic'

"The platform is not a gadget, it's not just cosmetic. It is really essential to establish this link between families, relatives, and public authorities to ensure they are listened to but also that there is a response," says Interior Ministry spokeman Pierre-Henry Brandet in one of the videos featured on the website.
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In others, radicalization experts explain the mechanisms of jihadist propaganda and what can be done to prevent it from ensnaring new recruits.
The website points out that more than 400 French people are currently in Iraq and Syria. The young people who've been indoctrinated by terrorists promoting a corrupt version of Islam come from all backgrounds and areas of France, it says.
"More than 70 French citizens or residents of France are already dead from having fallen into their trap," it says.
The website is a response to concern that the Paris attacks, carried out by three French citizens, could be followed by others as disaffected young people are recruited to the cause of radical Islam by skilled online recruiters.
France, like other European nations including Belgium and Britain, is also concerned about the threat posed by jihadists returning home from Syria or Iraq and seeking to carry out attacks on their native soil.
Terrorism expert and journalist David Thomson told Le Figaro newspaper he doubted that this kind of government counterpropaganda would have any impact on young would-be jihadists.
"However, it may have positive effects on the awareness of families, who can then understand better what is going on and call the famous anti-jihad toll-free number," Thomson said.