Last month, a student team from Notre Dame University placed first in an international competition sponsored by Facebook that pitted them against students from more than 60 countries. Eva Oueiss, Ribal Abou Zaky, Nour Salameh, Jessica Klat, and Christina Assi alongside their faculty advisor Naoum Abi Adam represented their team of 7 in Washington D.C., at the Peer to Peer: Facebook Global Digital Challenge.
The Peer to Peer competition challenges university students, guided by their faculty, to produce a local social media campaign to encourage youth to recognize the dangers of violent extremism and combat it among their peers.
As the students said in their presentation, “In Lebanon, Facebook is the voice of the voiceless.” The journalism students created a social media campaign designed to drive Lebanese youth to “Act to Impact.”
The campaign is called ACT (Aspiration, Communication, and Transformation). The overarching mission of ACT is to “promote diversity from the country of diversity” as a method of challenging extremism in a country represented by 18 religious sects and directly effected by terrorism, which has no one religion.
The target audience of this campaign is the uncommitted populations and at-risk youth in Lebanon. There are four core objectives of ACT. First, is to engage public figures to challenge extremism and promote diversity. Second, is to encourage students to use media tools to make a positive change in their societies. Third, is to reach and mobilize youth at risk in different Lebanese areas to challenge extremism. Fourth, is to raise awareness to confront mainstream stereotypes of extremism in the Lebanese society.
Throughout the semester, ACT with their bilingual campaign (Arabic and English), had an enormous amount of success and impact within Lebanon. They were able to reach more than 50 public figures across different fields to collaborate with ACT and initiate a call to action from their supporters. They had various workshops where they were able to distribute more than 2,000 flyers to promote the initiative and encourage uncommitted youth to challenge extremism. ACT was able to partner with Ruwad Al Tanmiya to discuss the importance of communication and basic web usage while tackling the causes and solutions for challenging extremism in Lebanon. Furthermore, they conducted a panel discussion relating to CVE and the media with speakers from various NGOs such as SMEX, MAHARAT, MARCH to promote their campaign during their initial launch.
The key outcome of these tactics and field workshops was the creation of a large virtual community in Lebanon, which motivated and empowered others to continue the fight against extremism. By the end of the fall semester, ACT’s videos have reached 81,075 Lebanese users with 109,828 impressions. They have been featured in 7 news websites, 2 newspapers, and 4 TV stations in Lebanon, furthering exposer of their campaign across Lebanon. They have 3,136 Facebook likes and counting.
Most importantly, ACT has become sustainable, credible, and is continuing to grow. A team of 7 journalism students has provided a platform for the voiceless all across Lebanon. While initially this campaign was created as part of a competition, it has progressed into a long term, impactful organization.
Program coordinator, Natasha Yaqub, Program Coordinator for EdVenture Partners, the firm that oversees the project worldwide, worked directly with the team ensuring they had all the resources and tools necessary to succeed in the competition. She said that “I was able to watch the progress of the team, especially once they had launched their social media pages. However, nothing compares to meeting the team in person in Washington D.C., where we continued to work late nights to finalize their presentation. The passion, enthusiasm, and pride for their country and the work they are doing is contagious. It’s inspiring, motivational, and empowering. Knowing first hand the amount of time, energy, and effort this team has put into ACT, it is rewarding to know they received the recognition they deserved and I am excited to continue following along with their progress as they continue to devote their time and energy into ACT.”
In the spring semester competition, St. Joseph University is one of the regional finalists. We’ll see if they have as much success as the NDU students.