The Facebook page of “Woke” looks like any other millennial-focused online news platform, pumping out slick videos of young British Muslims tackling hot button issues like Islamophobia, bullying, depression and workplace diversity.
Similar content populates the Instagram posts of an account by the same name.
But according to a company source familiar with the project, Woke is in fact part of a counter-terror program funded by the British government – raising ethical questions about transparency in such online initiatives.
Woke describes itself on Facebook as a “media/news company,” and its name derives from US slang describing a state of social and historical awareness, with progressive connotations.
Middle East Eye, the news site that first investigated the network, said it was created by a communications agency as part of a UK government counter-terror program known as “Prevent,” run from the British interior ministry, the Home Office.
Prevent aims to educate the public about the risks of extremism and to identify individuals who seem “at risk” of becoming terrorists, through a variety of public sector work.
The Home Office did not contest Middle East Eye’s characterization of “This is Woke” when questioned by CNN. “We are committed to using all of the tools available to counter the threat from terrorism in the UK,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement, adding that they could not comment on commercial contracts.
Woke’s aim, according to its Facebook page, is to engage “in critical discussions around Muslim identity, tradition and reform to provide a positive vision of what it means to be Muslim today.”
The network’s content includes inspirational memes, including images of late South African President Nelson Mandela, and panel discussions on veganism, fake news and modern dating.
In the fake news discussion, four young panelists discuss how to “train ourselves against what’s going on out there.”
One of its videos, on Muslim women describing the first time they wore “the hijab,” received more than 250 thousand views.
Middle East Eye reported that Breakthrough Media was responsible for creating the content on the network.
The source CNN spoke to said that Breakthrough Media, which has been renamed Zinc Network, stopped working on the Home Office account four months ago and it is now in the hands of advertising agency M&C Saatchi.
CNN has reached out to M&C Saatchi for comment.
When asked if it had created Woke content for the Home Office, Zinc Network told CNN only that it is “enormously proud of the work we undertake for our clients. “Providing support to communities, brands and governments to promote positive social change and tackle some of the most complex issues in the world today is the driving force of our agency,” it added.
The Home Office says that Prevent does not target any specific demographics and deals with “all forms of terrorism, including Islamist and extreme right wing.” However, over the years, it has been accused of fostering discrimination against Muslims and creating an atmosphere of distrust in the Muslim community.
When asked about Woke, the Home Office spokesperson also said that “the Prevent program continues to play a vital role in this fight against radicalization and has had a significant impact in stopping people being drawn into terrorism,” the spokesperson added.
Prevent’s aim is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Its objectives include preventing people from being drawn into terrorism and working with key sectors and institutions “where there are risks of radicalization which we need to address,” according to a 2011 Prevent Strategy document written by the Home Office.
“We will also work to tackle the challenge of radicalization on the internet,” it added.
Beyond educational outreach, Prevent also requires public-sector workers in schools and hospitals to report individuals who are believed to be “at risk” of radicalization. Once someone has been reported, the police or local authority decide whether they should be referred to Prevent’s anti-radicalization program – known as Channel – where they receive mentoring and counseling.
Livvy Doherty contributed to this report.