The Muslim online lifestyle platform SuperSisters which targets teenagers is covertly funded by the Home Office’s counter-extremism programme, The Observer has reported.
SuperSisters is promoted as a “global platform for young Muslimahs in east London to share and create inspiring and empowering content.”
It was built in 2015 by J-Go Media, a company that describes itself as “a not-for-profit community group” and has two decades of experience of engaging with Muslim communities in East London.
But after realising that recent funding for the project was coming from Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT), an arm of the government’s counter-extremism strategy, readers expressed anger and accused its directors of betraying the Muslim community. Two Muslim employees have since resigned.
Sabah Ismail, a social media manager for SuperSisters from February to August this year, told The Observer: “In my naiveity, I thought that through this ‘opportunity’ at SuperSisters, I really could help to make real change, pushing forward a different narrative from Muslim women themselves, showing that we are empowered and multi-faceted … I realise now that with the Home Office funding the project at the root, there was no way I could do this, regardless of the content I was pushing out.”
SuperSisters was conceived by J-Go in response to Shamima Begum and two other British schoolgirls running away to Syria in 2015. The project secured funding from Prevent, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office’s controversial strategy, which was set up to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Prevent has repeatedly faced claims of state-sanctioned spying on Muslims and is currently under independent review.
J-Go’s directors, Jon Hems and Jan Bros, stated: “Where we acknowledge we went wrong, and we apologise for it, is not more clearly stating the source of funding on the SuperSisters Instagram and blog, not just our [parent] website [J-GoLtd.com].”
State agencies have been actively involved with online propaganda targeted at Muslim citizens by offering “counter-narratives” to what they consider radical Islam. The Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit, or Ricu, has worked extensively with PR agencies and new media companies since 2007 to target those who fit the profile of vulnerable young Muslim.