Don't Be a Puppet FBI game
A screenshot of the FBI's Don't Be a Puppet online game on extremism, which was launched in February.FBI website

A new controversial game by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), designed to prevent radicalisation of susceptible children by terror groups, has received flak from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), who claim that the game leads to bullying and profiling. 

The FBI's intention behind devising the game seems to have been to deter youngsters from being converted to or sympathising with radical Islam when they come across it in real life or on the internet.

The Teachers Federation though had a different take on the new counter-terrorism measure. AFT president Randi Weingarten told the Guardian: "What we saw with the Don't be a Puppet program was that it created this broad-based suspicion of people based upon their heritage or ethnicity."

Don't Be a Puppet: Pull Back the Curtain on Violent Extremism, an online game launched by the FBI in February was criticized in an open letter sent to FBI director James Comey by AFT that represents 1.6 million teachers.

Nineteen civil rights and community groups including the National Immigration Law Center, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) co-signed the letter.

"Increasing ideological policing and surveillance efforts like the Don't be a Puppet campaign will have a chilling effect on our schools and immigrant communities," the letter said.

ADC and other groups and individuals from the Muslim community contend that the game leads to bullying and profiling of Muslim students and have actively spoken out against the game since previewing it last year. Following the outrage that it generated, the game's release was initially pushed back, but was eventually rolled out in February, with some minor modifications.

"It was pretty bad. We felt that it really did target the Arab and Muslim community, and there was no room for it inside a classroom," Abed Ayoub, legal director of ADC said.

Set in a dingy basement, where students complete a series of tasks to liberate a puppet on strings, the game features some ludicrous scenarios such as navigating a goat around virtual obstacles. It also rewards the users with a sample text of the "distorted logic" foreign terrorists use to lure youth.

In response to AFT, Matthew Berton, FBI spokesman said that they are aware of the concerns raised and indicated their plans to engage directly with them in the near future. The game however, is a part of FBI's larger counter-extremism program.

FBI has also faced similar flak in the past when the 9/11 review commission suggested last year that given its role as a law enforcement and intelligence agency, FBI was not "an appropriate vehicle for producing social programs combating extremism."

Another similar failure was the 'Think Again Turn Away' Twitter campaign launched in December 2013 by the State department. The program that aimed to combat extremism online by actively engaging with known jihadist accounts on Twitter, backfired, after critics pointed out that instead of its stated plan of convincing prominent jihadists accounts to change their beliefs, it was playing into the hands of the Islamic State propaganda.

Click here to play the game.

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