CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — Professors at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have created a program to combat online propaganda created by extremists. They even won an $800,000 grant from the Department of Homeland Security to get the program off the ground. The problem is they still haven’t received the money.
“We’re not doing anything. I mean it’s an empty studio, it’s supposed to have students in it,” said Mark Robinson, director of the media lab for UNC’s Department of Communications.
Students are missing because the money to fund Cori Dauber and Robinson’s program is also missing. The two won a grant from the federal government to defeat online terrorist campaigns in December under President Obama’s administration.
“Just the assumption that because there was an administration change there would necessarily be a lag,” said Robinson of the delay.
Now with President Trump in office, they’re unsure whether or not they’ll actually see that grant. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson says no decision has been made on the distribution of funds, and they’re reviewing the grant program to make sure it’s the most effective use of taxpayer dollars.
“The ultimate argument is, maybe this won’t work, but we’re never going to know unless we do it,” said Dauber.
The program would study propaganda videos on social media created by ISIS and other extremist groups.
“Deconstructing the videos and then forensically analyzing them, but also structurally and methodologically analyzing what’s being done,” said Robinson.
They would then get around 20 students to make new counter videos.
“There are images, memes, whole segments of these materials that increasingly we can’t figure out unless we’ve got a 20-year-old working with us,” said Dauber.
While the program is on hold, Dauber says students, and opportunities to fight radicalization, are passing them by.
Dauber says they are now getting some attention from congressmen from North Carolina. She hopes their efforts in Washington D.C. will be enough to get Chapel Hill its grant.