The company behind a British Muslim teen lifestyle website has admitted its links to the UK government’s anti-extremism strategy and apologised for not providing greater transparency over its sources of funding.
The SuperSisters platform, a blog with supporting social media accounts built by J-Go Media, was created in 2015 as a direct response to Shamima Begum, a schoolgirl from east London, travelling to Syria to join ISIS.
"The project was conceived with community involvement from the start," J-Go Media said on SuperSisters' Twitter feed read.
"Most of the community who we talked to asked us to set up a website and blog to feature the positive stories representing their community and the women within it."
However, the group has had to fend off accusations that middle-aged white men are running the site meant to appeal Muslim teenage girls.
The controversy surrounding the blog was sparked, in part, by the resignation of social media manager Sabah Ismail in August this year.
Ms Ismail, who began working for the blog in February 2019, told The Observer newspaper that her discovery UK government funding had been supplied to SuperSisters through the Home Office meant she could not stay on.
“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,” she said.
“We are sad to see Sabah go and thank her for all her hard work to make the SuperSisters platform the success it has become,” the website said in a statement.
J-Go Media was able to secure funding from the UK government’s anti-extremist strategy Prevent, through the programme’s Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) arm.
The company’s founders, Jon Hems and Jan Bros, have admitting wrongdoing in not being more transparent over the government funding.
“Where we acknowledge we went wrong and we apologise for it, is not more clearly stating the source of funding on the SS Instagram and blog, not just our website,” they said.
The group has said its funding from Prevent did eventually cease but the early support did not compromise its message.
"The BSBT programme is a government funded programme aimed at strengthening inclusion and – yes – countering extremism," J-Go said.
"Countering extremism for us is about sharing an alternative narrative to highlight positive stories coming from a diverse contributor network," the media company said.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the confidence of users of the platform has been undermined.
"I am actually shocked ... it's deeply problematic that non-Muslims feel they have the right to define what our unified identity is," one reader, Aeysh Ahmed, wrote on Instagram.
“This is truly shocking and disturbing and feels entirely like a violation,” another user wrote.