Home Civilian based defense Rand report suggests using technology to track social media trends to fight extremism in military

Rand report suggests using technology to track social media trends to fight extremism in military

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Participants in a crowd take to the inaugural stage at the Capitol on January 6. (Ricky Carioti / The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON – Experts from Rand Corp. suggested in a new report that the U.S. military is using technology to keep up with trends online and working with local law enforcement to eradicate extremism within its ranks.

Rand, a nonprofit think tank, released a report Thursday that offered a framework for identifying and extracting extremists from the military. The report noted several recent cases of military personnel participating in violent protests, including the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the riot at the United States Capitol on January 6.

At least five servicemen face federal charges for allegedly participating in the riot, in which a crowd seeking to overturn the 2020 presidential election results stormed the Capitol and disrupted a session joint Congress.

“The vast majority of military personnel and their families are not extremists,” according to the authors of the Rand Report. “But even a small number of people engaged in extremist activity could damage the reputation of the United States military, its strength, its members and the community at large.”

One of the methods Rand recommended was to use machine learning technology to spot online trends of extremist groups targeting the military community. Using artificial intelligence, the military could create models that would detect extremist communities on social media and see if they target the military with disinformation and try to recruit them.

The Rand report warned that the use of machine learning could create privacy concerns and that there is a risk of false results.

“The internet and social media have reduced the costs of creating, maintaining and growing extremist organizations,” the report says. “[The data are] accessible to the public, and recent advances in machine learning methods would allow trained professionals … to spot early models of extremist activity. ”

Experts also suggested that military installations work with their local law enforcement agencies to counter extremism. Civilian and military law enforcement agencies should share information about groups that pose a threat to the military in their area.

Extremism emerges and often affects the broader military community, the report’s authors said. Agencies should share information about any extremist slogans or symbols appearing on the facility or in the community, as well as any rumors or misinformation disseminated that could fuel the conflict.

In response to the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a suspension of the entire military to fight extremism. In April, he established an anti-extremism task force to study extremism within the military ranks, including the service’s ability to eliminate recruits with extremist views and whether the law or military regulations should be changed to solve the problem.

Defense Ministry policies on extremism now mandate commanders to detect and investigate acts of extremism, as well as to intervene quickly when they see signs that troops may be engaging in extremist activity . During this process, commanders must also judge whether taking action could infringe upon the military’s right of expression.

Politics place “significant” responsibilities on commanders, the Rand authors wrote.

“This is a huge responsibility, especially since commanders are not subject matter experts on extremism,” the report said. “Even for experts, it would be difficult because many precursors of extremism are common.”

Rand’s proposed framework for the military calls on leaders to first create a clear definition of “extremism” and give commanders more advice on how they can balance the rights of the military with eradicating it. extremism in their units.

Military regulations are obscure about what precisely constitutes extremist activity, and current MoD rules do not prohibit troops from being part of extremist organizations unless they actively participate in activities deemed illegal or likely to interfere with military order and discipline. Austin tasked the new Anti-Extremism Task Force to review the Pentagon’s rules governing extremism, including whether the Uniform Code of Military Justice should include a specific crime related to extremism.

Experts also recommended military-designed programs that could prevent military personnel and their families from associating with or developing such beliefs. Programs should focus on counseling people when they start showing signs of extremism, which can include feelings of frustration and anger towards authorities, culture or society.

Rand suggested that base chaplains – who are a “key line of defense” for military concerns – can play an important role in helping troops manage their feelings and find legitimate channels to voice their grievances.

Finally, Rand recommended that the Department of Defense improve its process for collecting data on extremism in the military. The Pentagon now uses the Defense Incident Reporting System, which records overall law enforcement activities and statistics within the military and shares them with the FBI.

However, some codes used in the reporting system do not match what the FBI is using. For example, the FBI’s system, called the National Incident-Based Reporting System, has a code to report bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. The military system does not have a code to report transgender bias. These two systems should line up, Rand said.

“The integration would ensure that trends in extremism are shared between civilian and military law enforcement,” Rand wrote.

Nikki Wentling



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