| by Sierra Abukins

News Stories

President Joe Biden (Credit: Adam Schultz / Biden for President )

The Center on Terrorism, Extremism, and Counterterrorism (CTEC) will be engaging in groundbreaking research to help communities combat violent extremism in partnership with Meta and the White House’s #UnitedWeStand initiative.

Jason Blazakis, director of CTEC, said the partnership allows the initiative to counter hatred in a holistic way. 

“The White House is bringing together academia, think tanks, and tech companies to take on the hate that seeks to divide us,” Blazakis said. “Every day, CTEC’s analysts witness firsthand the toll hatred takes on our communities. We don’t just research and study the problem—CTEC is about finding solutions. Working with Meta, we’ll do just that.”

Every day, CTEC’s analysts witness firsthand the toll hatred takes on our communities. We don’t just research and study the problem—CTEC is about finding solutions. Working with Meta, we’ll do just that.
— Jason Blazakis

The partnership, announced at the White House summit on September 15, drew international media attention including stories in the Washington Post, Reuters, the Guardian, and the Hill.

Addressing the Rise in Hate-Fueled Violence

In recent years, the United States has endured an alarming rise in hate-motivated attacks—from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to El Paso, Orlando to Atlanta to Buffalo. Hate crimes hit a 12-year high in the United States in 2020, according to the FBI. Increasingly, tech companies, government officials, and media are looking to researchers at CTEC to help understand these attacks and how they connect to new and emerging trends in extremism and domestic and international terrorism.

At the #UnitedWeStand summit, President Biden announced new actions the federal government will be taking to prevent hate-motivated violence. He called on tech companies to be more transparent about how their algorithms work, and on Congress to “hold social media companies accountable for spreading hate” with tighter laws.

Several tech companies announced actions they will be taking to remove violent content from their platforms and advance media literacy. Meta announced their work with CTEC as a research partner.

“These programs build on the important work our dangerous organisations team is already doing,” Dina Hussein, the counterterrorism policy lead for Meta, tweeted. “We invest heavily in people, technology, partnerships, and research to counter terrorist and violent extremist activity. It is our priority to keep our platforms and communities safe.”

CTEC’s Growing Work with Tech Companies

CTEC is affiliated with the Institute’s Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies program and also employs faculty and students from across MIIS and Middlebury College. As a mixed-methods research center, CTEC’s researchers leverage analytic tradecraft, data science, and linguistics. This includes analyzing an array of online and social media platforms to better understand how extremist messaging motivates individuals to carry out acts of violence. 

“Since our founding four years ago, we’ve been focused intently on sources and causes of extremism, and how young people, in particular, become radicalized. This partnership gives us an excellent opportunity to continue that work and apply our findings in new ways at a much greater scale,” said Alex Newhouse, deputy director of CTEC. After graduating from Middlebury College, Newhouse completed an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies at the Institute in Monterey, then joined CTEC, which has grown to a team of 10 and includes several alumni.

CTEC works with tech companies to develop better policies and tools to handle online extremist content on their platforms. For instance, CTEC partners with Spectrum Labs to provide multilingual research support for the construction of artificial intelligence products to improve online spaces. The team is also doing work with the iThrive Games Foundation; together, they are building an innovative games-based curriculum to help build resilience to violent radicalization in high schools, and they secured a grant from the Department of Homeland Security for a joint project to develop a shared framework for understanding extremism in games.

CTEC is a founder of the Accelerationism Research Consortium, the first research initiative dedicated to understanding and addressing the emerging terrorist threat known as militant accelerationism. Militant accelerationism is associated with dozens of high-profile terrorist attacks, such as those in Buffalo; Poway, California; and Pittsburgh. It was a driving force behind the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which President Biden cites as a principal catalyst for his run for president.

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