Over the past five years, the Home Office and a secretive government department called RICU, the Research, Information and Communications Unit, has been cultivating a network of ‘grass roots’ Muslim voices to promote ‘counter-narratives’ to combat the appeal of ‘extremist narratives’ among Britain’s young people. All of this is taking place with no public debate or oversight.
Working with top PR agencies and new media companies to target young people who fit the profile of ‘vulnerable young Muslim’, RICU’s interventions represent the first concerted foray into cyberspace by the British state with the aim of covertly engineering the thoughts of its citizens. In practice this means the chosen ‘grass roots’ organisations and ‘counter-narratives’ receive financial and technical support from the government for the production of their multimedia campaigns (videos, websites, podcasts, blogs etc.).
These state-sponsored ‘counter narratives’ have in turn been promoted to specific groups of internet users, chosen on the basis of their demographics, the websites they visit, the social media accounts they ‘follow’, and the search terms they use.
The use of information from Persephone Rizvi’s LinkedIn profile in this report in no way indicates her knowledge of the connections between UmmahSonic, Breakthrough Media and the Home Office.
Many of those working for such companies or projects like UmmahSonic are unaware of funding streams or links to the counter-terrorism establishment, which is why it is more important than ever to have transparency and accountability for any project that presents itself as being connected to the grassroots.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)