For the third time in three years, a Lebanese university has been a finalist in an international completion concerning the use social media to combat extremism in their communities. The program was conceived and is managed by Edventure Partners (EVP), a California-based firm which teams their clients in government and the private sector to its international network of academic institutions to explore issues important to millennials. The program is now in its sixth year.
The Peer-to-Peer Combating Extremism and the Facebook Global Digital Challenge programs are designed to tap into the creativity and insights of young people to have them design outreach programs dealing with combatting violent and extremism. Each team is composed of university students, mentored by one or more faculty advisors, who develop their social media campaigns according to program’s guidelines, for which they received academic credit.
St. Joseph University and Notre Dame University were previous winners of the competition finals, which were are held in Washington, DC. I try to attend the finals to learn from the students and to show them support from the Lebanese-American community. I have also managed to visit the teams on their campuses in Lebanon and hope to do the same this year.
I asked Sally Mansour, one of the Haigazian team to summarize their experience for ATFL. Here is her response.
“What started as a normal project as part of our courses, became a permanent goal to Achieve, an initiative to raise awareness against hate speech and extremism. The team, Ali Termos, Mohammed Bachir, Maya Skaini, Harout Tchilinguirian, and Sally Mansour decided to participate in the 2017 Fall Semester Facebook Global Challenge. It was the first time Haigazian University participated in the competition and we had the strong support from the university.
After lots of discussion, we decided that we wanted to tackle the issue of Online Religious Hate Speech. In Lebanon, people always tend to ask you, either directly or indirectly, questions about your background so they get to know your religion. That shapes the flow of the conversation. We wanted to stop that. We want people to stop categorizing others according to their religion; we want them to not base their love or hate on something that makes us different. We wanted them to rise above hate.
This is where the project name, RISE Lebanon came from, an acronym that stand for Respect Individuality and Show Empathy. Through our name and acronym, we wanted to deliver the message that yes, your individuality, as a youth, does matter and it is the essence in any society; yet you need to show empathy to others no matter what their religion or opinion is. We also created a hashtag #riseabovehate, through which we delivered the message that if you witness online hate messages you need to rise above it in order to live in a better healthy society.
Our teachers Dr. Priyan Khakhar and Dr. Najoie Nasr helped us a lot throughout the Campaign. Through the marketing research and the integrated marketing communications courses, we were able to successfully reach our target market which is youth at risk, with our online and offline events.
We went to the Beirut Marathon which attracted more than 40,000 people, distributed flyers in English and Arabic that said “Do you know the person that is running next to you?” and on the other side it said “Does it matter?” We got a lot of feedback on this flyer and we were able to see people’s perspectives towards this topic. We also developed an online social media campaign that focused on defining hate speech, the effect it has on the individuals and society, and how to fight back, all of which was based on the extensive market research that we did. We also recruited 22 Lebanese Local celebrities to support our cause and message.
We didn’t stop there, we created a hands-on app, Type Above Hate, that youth can use to identify and challenge hate speech. We created a Google Chrome Extension called Type Above Hate that works on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Once you download the extension, whenever you’re writing a comment or a post that includes hate speech, the extension notifies you that you are using a term that is used in hate speech, what kind of hate speech it is, for example, sexist, racist, or most importantly, religious. It is now being used at our own university, Haigazian, and we also presented it at American Community School, and at the Office of International Programs at American University of Beirut.
We won third place in the Facebook Global Competition and presented our work in front of prominent judges and guests of the program from various US government agencies, people from the private sector, and the Lebanese Embassy. Celebrating with the Ambassador and our friends back home at the university, and of course, our families, we realized that we want to continue with our project because we can see how important it is and the impact we are having. People from different age groups encouraged us, and we still witness online religious hate speech today.
We now want to target hate speech in its different forms, not just religious. We also want to target it globally, with our main focus in Lebanon. Our future plan is to continue raising awareness on the topic and update Type Above Hate using sentiment analysis that would draw the line between what is hate speech and what is not, since some terms are used by youth as a normal expression while others use it in a hate speech message.
We hope to also extend its use to alert the reader as well as the send to the speech in a message. We will be also including suggestions for terms that can be used instead of the terms written. This will require a lot of effort and a lot of time in addition to our school work and our jobs.
This experience taught us a lot, although we come from different backgrounds, we realized that our differences make us stronger. We learned to work as a team, under pressure, and we are proud to say we are advocates in our generation. We learned about our different skills and how all combined made us reach the place where we are now. The Washington, DC experience is one we will never forget, and we will keep this project and the many people who have joined is with us, always.”
Jean AbiNader adds…We are very proud of these students, their faculty, and the University for participating in this courageous and important effort. You and your colleagues are clearly the future leaders of Lebanon.
For more details and information, here are the links to the campaign:
Campaign Title: Respect Individuality and Show Empathy