Social 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?
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.
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.