Anime nerds trying to Google bomb ISIS

Posted at 4:57 PM, Jul 23, 2015

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Her name is ISIS-chan. And she’s how nerds around the world are trying to silence violent ISIS terrorist propaganda.

It starts with the vibrant worldwide community that loves Japanese anime. Some of them have created a cute animated character as a sort of ISIS mascot.

The goal? Hijack the terrorist group’s message and replace it with a girl that’s oh-so-adorable.

Right now, if you search online for the term “ISIS,” you’ll be pelted with images of intimidating thugs murdering innocent people and waving AK-47s and black flags.

Anti-ISIS activists want to reverse that, so they’ve put out an open call to everyone around the world who can doodle. It’s essentially a “Google bomb,” a war of attrition where images are ammunition and “search engine optimization” is the rule of engagement.

“The World Wide Web is our battlefield,” the group told CNNMoney on Thursday. “We want to change the meaning of the term ‘ISIS’.”

ISIS-chan wears the terrorist group’s black clothing. She has green eyes and dark hair. She’s 19. And if she’s holding a knife, it’s only because she loves to slice and eat delicious melons.

But winning the SEO war is a monumental challenge. Although Google keeps secret its algorithm that determines what ranks high on search results, the basic rule is: the more popular the image, the higher it shows up online.

ISIS-chan first appeared on Japanese websites earlier this year, so it’s most popular there. But even on Japan’s version of Google, a search for “ISIS” yields 334 photos of beheadings and crucifixions before you see a single image of ISIS-chan.

It’s only in the last few weeks that ISIS-chan has begun to catch on in Europe and the Americas. One recent drawing was done by someone who told CNNMoney he’s a high school student in the Midwest.

“I disagree with ISIS and its methods, and I like anime, so when I heard about this, I just decided to contribute,” he said.

Other images range from simple sketches…

…to well-crafted drawings.

The group said it has tallied more than 3,000 original images from an unknown number of supporters — mostly in Asia.

CNNMoney talked to several activists involved in this campaign. All wished to remain anonymous in this story, fearing reprisal by underground ISIS cells in their home countries.

One anti-ISIS activist, who’s known on Twitter only as GenKnoxx, explained how the whole thing got started in January. When ISIS killed two Japanese hostages, the grief-stricken nation, unable to legally retaliate with a physical military, responded the only way it knew how. Animators independently Photoshopped ISIS images of the gruesome murder, replacing the killer’s knife with a banana.

“They did it to make these people — who try to be terrifying — look ridiculous,” GenKnoxx told CNNMoney. “That’s the idea. To de-fang ISIS.”

The group does have some simple rules: No insulting Islam — or showing its religious symbols. Always respect images of hostages. No gore. No porn.

For some, this probably sounds really weird. Maybe even bordering on offensive. But you have to understand that this type of personification is typical of Japanese anime culture. In the popular television series Sailor Moon, every planet in the Solar System had a heroic female. Even Internet Explorer has an anthropomorphic personification called Inori Aizawa.

ISIS now has ISIS-chan.