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“Learning to oppose the narrative of hatred”

March 30th, 2017

Mridul UpadhyayBuilding peace means finding ways to defuse the hate speech of terrorists, writes Mridul Upadhyay, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from New Delhi, as he describes a workshop that gave activists strategies for this important mission.

“We, the peace builders, need to understand that the reach of ISIS type extremist groups is getting much better than the peace advocates, which proves that these groups must be doing something really good to catch their target audience.”

This thought pushed the participants of the Youth Innovation Lab in Malaysia to think of better counter-narratives to challenge hate speech and extremism in their respective communities.

Youth Civil Activism Network (YouthCAN) of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) organised this first-ever lab in Asia Commonwealth region on 2-3 March 2017 in Kuala Lumpur for young activists from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia. With over 950 members from more than 100 countries, YouthCAN supports young people in their efforts to prevent and counter hate speech and extremism and build peace.

The 33 participants of the lab were divided into five regional groups and worked with international experts for two days to develop their own original campaigns that promote peace in their respective communities.  Not only perpetration by tyrannical and aggressive regimes and rebel groups, social injustice, ideological contradictions, religious beliefs, foreign interference, deteriorating socio-economic conditions and biased government policies but even micro-aggression can become a factor responsible for the rise of extremism.

The sessions guided participants on framing the problem of extremism in South and Southeast Asia, best practices to manage risk and stay safe while countering hate speech and extremism, proactive solutions to counter extremism, having a well-defined targeted audience for the campaign and crafting and refining the targeted and persuasive message for the campaign.

“The importance of effective social media strategy can be proved by a fact that ISIS pays ten times more salary to its social media people than to its soldiers. Perhaps ISIS’s most important expense is the maintenance of its image and dissemination of its ideology, which they do via a vast and sophisticated social media,” said Dr. Erin Saltman.

Dr. Saltman, Policy Manager of EMEA Counterterrorism & CVE at Facebook, presented tips on effectively promoting the campaign on social media, as well as methods for analysing and evaluating a campaign. The groups were also given tips by an international marketing and brand firm, Brand Union, to create engaging content for social change.

The first day dealt with developing a plan for each group’s counter-narrative campaign, through continuous personal mentoring and peer review. The second day was entirely dedicated to develop the content and create a campaign to be pitched in the evening.

“Extremism offers something which people look for; power, knowledge and sense of authority. That is why it is able to attract youth. Youth feels reclaiming power by extremism. We need to hit this mindset,” were among the messages.

The groups came up with campaigns on tackling hate speech caused by fake news, challenging prejudice between two neighbouring countries, countering hate speech against a particular ethnicity, bringing positive stories of an ethnically diverse country, and empowering youth with the rich culture and heritage of their country. They used various platforms like fact-checking website, Facebook pages, video and memes. Most of the campaigns were made for the target audience of the youth of the 19-24 age group in urban areas, while the tone of the campaigns chosen ranged from factual to satirical and humorous.

The Innovation Lab was a unique opportunity for capacity building, skill development and networking. Many of us are already working to promote and preserve peace through preventive and counter extremism means in our communities. The learning from this lab will instantly help us in increasing the reach and engagement of our peace campaigns.

Reach me on Twitter  @Mridul_upadhyay

Photo credit: Mridul Upadhyay

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About me:
A thinker, a social volunteer, a mechanical designer, a theater artist, a guitar player, a lyrics-writer, an amateur sketch artist, a cook, a traveler, a wannabe civil servant – there are many phrases I enjoy trying on me to describe what I see myself as.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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