Russian Scientists Develop Extremist-Seeking Software

PHOTO by Silas Stein / DPA / TASS

Kommersant reports that Russian scientists have unveiled a new type of software that is capable of detecting extremist-related content across social networks. Developers claim their product can identify the most active and influential members of extremist groups based on their online activities. Russian security services have reportedly already expressed interest in this software.

The product was developed by Tomsk State University (TSU) staff in collaboration with a private company called Kribrum. The technology is based on the mathematical analysis of language. Mikhail Myagkov, director of the TSU Research and Education Center, noted: “We have studied far-right radical communities on the VK social network, which have been blocked by Roskomnadzor (Russian media watchdog) on the grounds of extremist content.”

“We can even see what users wrote in these communities several years ago. Studying these online groups and extremist compendiums, we are creating analysis methodology for Russian texts, allowing us to find specific keywords within specific content – i.e. we can find a ‘bomb’ relating to a discussion about a terrorist attack and discard phrases like ‘man, that story is the bomb!’ At the same time, seeking extremist communities and content is only one of the ways this software can be used,” he added.

“Our objective is to study terabytes of content spread across various social media platforms for several purposes – marketing, educational, social and so forth, not just necessarily political. For example, we are thinking of analyzing the perception of universities online – this may become one of the criteria that can be used to create the national higher education institution rankings,” the spokesman explained.

Rights advocates and lawyers remain skeptical about the possibility of this kind of software being used by security agencies. For example, lawyer Sergey Badamshin notes: “These [anti-extremist law articles] are written in a way that gives the Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service ample room for abuse. And courts unfortunately hand out guilty verdicts which often result in jail time.”