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Israeli AI company aims to find online extremists before they kill

"Our technology analyzes a vast amount of digital footprints to identify signs of potential risk," the RealEye startup says.

Hamas supporters protest in New York, May 15, 2021. Credit: Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.
Hamas supporters protest in New York, May 15, 2021. Credit: Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock.

Incitement on the internet has become a hot topic in the wake of Oct. 7, but as we all know, violence doesn’t always stay online—extremist activists in Europe and the U.S., mostly Muslims, are actively hatching plots to target Israeli and Jewish sites around the world, posing a clear and immediate threat.

But how do you find them? Is it possible to identify these “ticking time bombs” in advance and warn security authorities about them? Israeli technology is at the forefront, meeting the challenge.

The Tel Aviv-based RealEye startup has developed two systems, “Masad” and “Fortress,” which seek to do that by identifying and building as accurate a profile as possible of these dangerous activists and entities, essentially raising a “red flag” on those whose actions must not be overlooked.

The Israeli business has raised a total of $1.1 million “to provide data-based insights to correctional and immigration authorities, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and the military,” the company said. It also became a service provider for an Israeli security agency as part of its effort to help law enforcement through the insight and intelligence it gleans.

The path to radicalization online is not linear. Some people, often termed “first-generation radicals,” are indoctrinated in extremist ideologies abroad and then utilize digital platforms to propagate these views in their new environments, the company says. These new places could be mosques.

As has often been the case, extremism does not stay confined to social networks. The challenge is to find the needle in the haystack by identifying the individuals who are so radicalized that they pose a real, physical threat.

The challenge is compounded by the emergence of “second-generation radicals,” the company said. These people often come from stable backgrounds, and their radicalization stems from exposure to extremist narratives online. An example of this was the 2019 shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N. J. The two perpetrators had no history of violence and had been reportedly radicalized to violence through online extremist content.

RealEye founder Kevin Cohen. Photo: Courtesy.

“Our objective,” explains Kevin Cohen, founder of RealEye, “is to address the distinctive online experiences that play a role in radicalization and eliminate the formation of dangerous behaviors.”

But identifying online threats is not enough. Effective prevention of violence must include figuring out the paths that lead to it and developing sophisticated technological tools for this purpose. This is where the technology that has changed people’s lives in the last two years—AI—comes into play.

Advanced AI models can differentiate between benign online behaviors and those harboring malicious intent. By exposing these hidden structures, companies like RealEye can empower governments and civil society organizations to detect potential dangers preemptively.

“Our technology analyzes a vast amount of digital footprints to identify signs of potential risk, distinguishing us from conventional, more general OSINT [open source intelligence] methods,” says Roy Zinman, the chief product officer at RealEye.

Along with the desire to prevent online and social media incitement and violence from turning into violence, the fight against online hate requires balanced and delicate action, incorporating an ethical framework and preserving privacy and freedom of expression, RealEye argues.

“Fostering partnerships between governments, civil society organizations, and technology experts, can provide better security for those in peril of online-to-physical attacks,” Cohen says.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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