_l1b6570Social media is no man’s land but a level playing field with no or minimal censorship. At just one click, we are free to post, share and read whatever content, whether true or false, propaganda or extremist. From politics, world news to pop culture and achievement, every day we are exposed to so much news and content, mostly streaming online.

Remember times you read a message on social media or noticed that a particular thing was trending and you wondered how wrong or extremist info got there. Guess what? The originators of the messages wonder how wrong you are to think that they are extremists. How do you counter such narratives?

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Last week I was in Djibouti at an Innovation Lab by IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) – training on using art and activism creatively. As a PR person and journalist, this was a media boot camp for me. In just two days, we were tasked with developing new and innovative social media campaigns to prevent and challenge extremism and promote peace.

Here’s how best to counter extremist narratives:

  1. First decipher extremist content – get your facts right and do your research.
  2. Tap into the truth and intelligence.
  3. Get your message to counter it crafted properly to suit your target audience.
  4. Get a social media plan ready. How to do it:
  • Set your objective
  • Identify your target audience
  • Craft a campaign message
  • What is your goal?
  • What is your broad message?
  • What tone will your audience respond to?
  • What sources do your audience find credible?
  • What is your call to action?
  • What is your content?

To put this to practice, we were first divided into 4 groups at the lab. Each group was tasked with identifying a major problem in their society – hypothetical in this case because we all came from different societies and countries across the UK and Africa. I really loved my group because our thinking was waaaaay out of the box, just like yours should be if you want to create and start a social media storm that will send out a strong message that will resonate with the masses.

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The problem we identified with and picked for the challenge was the fact that there’s a good number of young teenage boys sharing extremist messages or propaganda like clips from terror groups on social media. By the time the messages are trending on Whatsapp groups, among other platforms, they seem truthful and trustworthy misleading some teenagers to believe that being recruited in terror groups is something cool or better than ordinary life problems like defunct family set up or being a societal reject. The truth of is it’s not cool and when you join these groups it’s not as much fun because:

  1. You could join them and actually die while in the line of duty.
  2. It’s not much fun as you won’t even have Wi-Fi or the freedom of choice while living and working in terror camps.
  3. Unlike misleading narratives, it’s no benefit doing wrong or killing people. If anything you could accidentally be targeting your family, friends or those related to you.
  4. In summary, the truth is that when you think you are hurting others by indulging in acts of violence or spreading extremist messages – you’re not just hurting them – you are also hurting yourself.

The last point lead us to – It Hurts Me Campaign. The tone of our campaign is tough love and our objective is to warn all teenagers and others on the dangers of involving themselves with terror groups, and when we say involving – we mean even sharing or reading the extremist texts or content circulating social media.

See a few samples of content we crafted in English Swahili and Somali.

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Our mission was to evoke critical thinking among the teens so that they can decipher whether the info passed online is true or false. So, get it? Share it …

I knew we achieved our intention when our first presentation at the lab was received with many questions and eyebrows. “Won’t this challenge be actually urging the extremists to use it to their benefit?” Some prodded.

The second phase of our campaign would be starting a trend of teen taking selfies and tagging them using our campaign’s slogan #ItsHurtsMe To publicize this we would post each selfie and place where it originated from on our Facebook to document the fact that this is a global cause and unifying campaign.

Check out It Hurts Me Campaign Facebook Page here:

Moral of the story

You have to think out of the box to start something, and to start a social media storm – you have to have a proper strategy and plan. Understanding your audience, the problem or message and how best to craft it is key.

Summary

All the 4 groups at the Innovation Lab did an exemplary job at creating a specific campaign to counter extremist narratives on social media. I must admit that was difficult to work with people from different backgrounds, societies, beliefs and different points of view on such an intense task in just two days but we did it! And at the end, we emerged winners because it’s the very same task – reasoning with people from different backgrounds, societies, beliefs and different points of view – that social media puts us to every morning when we open our phones. We have to relate just at one posting. Information is power and you can apply this in whatever field.

BONUS:

Thank you IGAD and all the facilitators at the Innovation Lab. My time in Djibouti was memorable 🙂

I will be presenting a scope of what I learnt at the Innovation Lab for the first time at the 10th Edition of SOMA Connect that is themed Social Media for Entertainment Industry March 8th at Nailab from 6:00 p.m.

 

 

 

 

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