Economy, Sci & Tech

Hackers Take on IS

Hackers Take on IS
Hackers Take on IS

In a small room close by Australia's Sydney Opera House, 60 people are feverishly working on ways to combat the so-called 'Islamic State' online propaganda, AFP reports.

The extremists' warped ideology and use of social media has struck a chord with thousands of Western youngsters across the world, drawing them to fight in Iraq and Syria or show support from their home countries.

The United States and its allies have struggled to counter the digitally savvy group, but a pair of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are leading a grassroots-charge to take on IS in cyberspace, travelling around the world to host hackathon challenges.

The latest hackathon competition—the fourth in the past five months—is being held alongside a two-day countering violent extremism conference in Australia's biggest city, attended by high-level officials and experts and opened by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The anti-extremism meeting is taking an in-depth look at how IS, which controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, reaches out to youths, with technology giants Facebook, Twitter and Google joining the more than 30 participating countries in hashing out solutions.

Almost 25,000 foreign fighters from over 100 countries were involved in conflicts worldwide, a recent United Nations report said, with many headed for Iraq and Syria. Some of those making the journey include teenage boys and girls.

The hackathon is designed to take an additional approach to countering IS.

The projects being developed do not have to address radicalization head on, but are meant to focus on the root causes of why young people choose to leave home, such as feeling disconnected from local communities.

Hackathon competitors are drawn from across industries and communities that may not normally interact with each other, with a goal to go beyond the talking shop labels usually slapped on conferences and come up with concrete programs that can turn a profit.

At a three-day "Haqqathon"—a variation on the word hackathon using the Arabic word "haqq", meaning truth—in Abu Dhabi in April, the people's choice award went to "Marhubba", an app that helps young Muslims tap into Islamic scholarship to answer questions on relationships.