In an effort to counter the global online reach of extremist groups, the FBI created an online game entitled “Don’t Be a Puppet” geared towards combating the radicalization of school-age children.
The game was to be rolled out in multiple school districts and targeted to over 400,000 youths, the Washington Post reported. According to those who saw the test version, the game features a puppet on strings that is slowly freed as students answer each question correctly.
The Post article also suggested that the game was scheduled to go live on Monday, November 2nd but was temporarily put on hold.
When reached recently by telephone, an FBI spokesperson would not comment on why the game was postponed, or if it had even originally been scheduled for release on that date beyond repeating a previously released statement: “The FBI is developing a website designed to provide awareness about the dangers of violent extremist predators on the internet, with input from students, educators and community leaders.”
According to various reports, the FBI pre-screened the game to a group of Muslim and Arab advocacy groups and community leaders. Those involved in the meeting had major concerns that the website seemed disproportionately fixated on Muslim or Islamic threats, without appropriately targeting threats from far-right or white-supremacist groups.
Corey Saylor, the legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was not privy to the FBI briefing, but spoke with some who were and reiterated many of their concerns.
He pointed to the controversial Prevent strategy in Great Britain, and the recent case of Ahmed Mohamed who was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school under suspicion that it was a bomb, as evidence of an increasingly unhealthy atmosphere in schools where suspicion trumps a desire to advance education.
In an interview with Education Week, Saylor acknowledged that countering extremism and online recruitment is important. However he also made clear that he does not think “educators should be part of the national security system” and that counter-radicalization efforts should be community led.
The controversy surrounding “Don’t be a Puppet” comes on the heels of other somewhat controversial youth counter-radicalization programs organized by the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. These programs were piloted in Minneapolis, Boston, and Los Angeles and sought to reach students in schools as part of the larger effort of countering online recruiting by radical groups.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.