EVP and P2P at United Nations General Assembly
On Wednesday, September 21, the Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P) program took center stage at an event in New York City held in conjunction with the 71st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) week.
A joint partnership with EdVenture Partners, Facebook and the U.S. Department of State, the event was held Wednesday afternoon at the W Hotel New York and featured opening remarks from Tony Sgro, EdVenture Partners Co-Founder and CEO; Monika Bickert, Facebook Head of Product Policy; Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs; and Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. Dean Obeidallah, host of SiriusXM nationally syndicated radio talk show and frequent CNN contributor, emceed the event.
Peer to Peer: Challenging Extremism (P2P) is a global university competition and program in which students create social and digital media campaigns, products or tools to counter prejudice, online hate and extremism. Now in its fourth term, P2P has enlisted higher learning institution partners in 59 countries and counting, with over 230 schools working together to challenge extremism.
What makes this program unique among Facebook’s various initiatives to counter online hate and extremism is the student teams’ abilities to localize messaging in each of their communities around the world, according to Facebook’s Monika Bickert.
“We know that these students have a unique understanding of what the issues are in their community, with regard to hatred and extremism,” said Bickert. “And they are in the best position to determine what kind of messaging is going to work to reach their local population.”
In an interview with CNNMoney’s Laurie Segall during the event, Bickert further discussed the student teams’ ability to test various strategies to find out what works over the course of their campaigns, and measure how sentiment has changed by the various tactics employed.
“People that are in the online space and using Facebook, the vast majority of them are there for good reasons. And they are communicating in very positive ways,” Bickert said. “What we need to do is help people use those positive voices to stand up against hate and extremism. And through programs like Peer to Peer, we are seeing that work.”
“The real stars of the show at Wednesday’s event were the five P2P teams, who each shared highlights from their innovative and award-winning campaigns from around the world,” said EdVenture Partners’ Tony Sgro.
Government dignitaries, business leaders and media from around the world flock to New York City during UNGA week — an appropriate setting to welcome each of the top P2P teams:
(Laal-u-Anar Foundation, Afghanistan)
“We have worked to prevent the ideology of violence and hatred by launching different community-building initiatives, and by building an international (social media) platform … that imposes a cost on those who choose to misuse a peaceful religion and its followers,” said the team’s faculty advisor.
The team held a nationwide essay contest, the first of its kind in Afghanistan, to push back on extremist acts, which their country is all too familiar with. The capital city of Kabul suffered an attack that killed and injured more than 400 people during the team’s campaign period, which they respond to with a blood donation campaign element. Large-scale events such as these, television appearances and social media integration were especially effective in spreading their #IslamSaysNoToExtremism campaign and messaging.
(Turku School of Economics, Finland)
From 2014 to 2015, there was a large increase in the number of asylum seekers in Finland. This student team determined “poor integration” of these different cultures was the biggest culprit leading to radicalization and violent extremist ideologies in their area. Lack of information and lack of activities for these new cultures were further attributed as causes for poor integration. The team created an “About City” mobile app, which shared top things to know about in Turku, complete with online discussion boards and events calendars, to address exactly those information gaps. The team also organized an event which celebrated cultural differences and food as a force to bring people together. The United by Food event was “based on the International Restaurant Day concept, during which anyone can set up their own pop-up restaurant,” according to a team member. “We gathered asylum seekers from local reception centers to prepare food traditional to their home countries which (was) then served to the people of Turku.”
(Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan)
By reminding Pakistanis that lives lost in terrorist conflicts are #NotJustANumber, the student team sought to humanize casualties. The campaign aimed to turn apathy, indifference and resignation into concern, hope and activism, utilizing a public art installation (#NeverForget) and an interactive game they developed called Utopia, where participants can build their own communities, free from prejudice. These ideas were reinforced through an education program in the schools, which encouraged students to record their protests against extremism through social media. “We encourage the students not to stay silent on acts of injustice,” said a team member, “but to do whatever they can, in whatever capacity they can, to stand against acts of violence and injustice in society.”
(Utrecht University, the Netherlands)
“During our research, we learned that the polarization in society leads to a hostile environment, and this is an important breeding ground for radicalization,” said a team member during their presentation. By reclaiming the middle ground that exists between ISIS and the far-right, both of which have very strong brands according to the team, their goal was to create a brand and voice for those in the middle — a heroic alternative to those extremes — #DareToBeGrey. The team’s video and photo series portrayed people with diverse backgrounds, and they also created school curriculum (Generation Grey) and a series of events including a debate. All campaign elements were designed to challenge people to think critically about polarization in their own, unique environments.
(New York University, United States)
The NYU team was comprised of team members from 15 different countries. Drawing from the diversity of their school and city as a melting pot of cultures, their #7TrainStop interview series yielded 44 video interviews with immigrants and refugees, each faced with different challenges when attempting to integrate with their new societies. However, there was a common thread in each of their stories. “So many stories were marked with conflict and aggression that stemmed from misunderstanding,” according to a team member. “Violence, extremism and radicalization all stem from a lack of understanding of each other.” And so, the Voices of New York component was born, which shifted their focus from listening to these stories, to actively calling out hate speech via their website and social media channels.
Continuing their work
In a Facebook Live video interview prior to the event, students talked about their hopes to continue work on their various campaigns, with at least two of the five presenting teams having already established start-up companies to extend their campaigns.
A representative from Finland’s team said, “After really getting into (the program), … it really became a new path for my life.”
Global campaign expansion, particularly in the case of NYU with its many campuses, was discussed, as was further product development on mobile apps and games that began as part of these campaigns.
Under Secretary Richard Stengel, in the same Facebook Live video, underscored the long-lasting potential of P2P: “This is just the beginning of what will be a really, truly global program, and will overwhelm that violent extremist content which is poisoning people’s minds. It’s the good content that will overwhelm it.”