Feds Look to Facebook, Private Groups to Battle Extremists Online

The U.S. government, acknowledging its limited success in combating Islamic extremist messaging, is recruiting tech companies, community organizations and educational groups to take the lead in disrupting online radicalization.

The change in strategy, which took a step forward on Wednesday when the Justice Department convened a meeting with social media firms including Facebook, Twitter and Google, comes despite what critics say is scant evidence on the effectiveness of such efforts.

The meeting was "a recognition that the government is ill-positioned and ill-equipped to counter ISIS online," Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism, said after attending the event, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

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The federal government is not best placed to counter extremist online recruitment efforts with messaging of its own, said George Selim, director of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office that coordinates the government's "countering violent extremism" (CVE) activities.

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The goal now, he said, is to help "communities and young people to amplify their own messages."

Those messages stem from so-called "counter-narrative" programs underway at schools and community groups that have varying degrees of government support, according to government officials and private sector experts.

Past campaigns by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to thwart extremist propaganda globally were widely regarded as too reliant on fear-based rhetoric and graphic imagery to be effective.

But whether the new joint effort with the private sector will fare better remains unclear, say experts in countering extremism.

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The Obama administration has had an uneasy relationship with Silicon Valley in recent years. Twitter and other tech firms have been reticent to appear too cozy with authorities on how they manage their content, though most have cautiously drifted toward being more compliant over the past year.