/ 11 February 2016

FBI’s gullible goat slips up on jihadi slope

Anti-radicalisation tools are indicative of how clueless governments can be when it comes to reaching out to the younger generation

I’m a susceptible goat speeding down the path to Islamic extremism, but first I must negotiate the green-and-grey blocks of infidel propaganda. No, wait; I’m a radicalised goat, hell-bent on jihad, but my extremist beliefs are threatened by green-and-grey blocks of debate.

Or could it be that I’m trying to master the FBI’s almost unplayable – it’s almost as infuriating as Flappy Bird – new online anti-extremism game, which involves manoeuvring a wayward goat through an obstacle course whose metaphorical intent is all but unfathomable?

The game, titled Slippery Slope, is supposed to educate impressionable children on “the distorted logic of blame that can lead a person into ­violent extremism”, but it’s also indicative of how clueless governments can be when it comes to reaching out to the younger generation.

Slippery Slope is part of an online initiative launched by the FBI called Don’t Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism, which uses games and quizzes to inform young people about radicalisation.

As the title suggests, there are more metaphors to unmangle here: a wooden mannequin bound by strings, for example, which you can free by visiting all the site’s sections; rendered as rooms of a confusing family home.

“We want teens to apply their critical thinking skills to this issue,” said an FBI spokesman.

“The FBI made a video game and it sucks,” declared gaming site Kotaku. “Everything about this site screams awful, out-of-touch 1990s educational game,” complained design and technology blog Gizmodo.

This isn’t the first attempt to counter the problem of online radicalisation. But compared with the relatively sophisticated methods of Islamic State, whose propaganda techniques include slick recruitment videos and intensive social-media grooming, governments are banging their goats against a grey-green wall.

A Radicalisation Awareness Information Kit issued to Australian schools last year was roundly ridiculed for drawing a direct line between violent extremism and “listening to alternative music”.

Similarly, the United Kingdom’s new Educate Against Hate website, launched last month, includes among its “warning signs” such behaviour as “excessive time spent online or on mobile phones” and “significant change of appearance and/or clothing” – also known as normal teenage behaviour.

Can game developers do any better? Fighting fire with fire doesn’t seem to be working. Grand Theft Auto was appropriated as a jihadi recruitment ad. Perhaps the West’s greatest online riposte was the 2014 hit, Goat Simulator, in which the player controls, yes, a goat on the rampage across suburbia. It was mindlessly pointless, educationally worthless and guiltily amusing – all the hallmarks of the healthy democracy we seek to defend. And the graphics were a lot better than the FBI’s. – © Guardian News & Media 2016