1. Learning objectives

On successful completion of this lesson, the users will be able to:

  1. outline and define counter-extremist narrative campaign and its audience.
  2. assess and analyse extremist or hate speech situation for a counter-narrative campaign.
  3. identify and create the right message and medium for a counter-narrative campaign.

2. Understanding counter narrative

With the privilege of freedom of speech and the internet, radical or extremist groups argue that their narratives are not extremist nor hate speech because they are just personal opinions, but they thrive on their recruitment and influence among youth most vulnerable to radicalisation. Though when looking at the efforts to prevent and counter violent extremism, youth are often discussed as either part of the problem or as an at-risk group that needs safeguarding. Unfortunately, these positions give little agency to youth activists and provides little support for proactive youth initiatives, this ignorance further exposes youth to be more susceptible to violent radicalisation. But with those radical, extremist groups thriving by spreading their message through social media to spread their propaganda and to promote their extremist narratives, youth are the most equipped agents to prevent and counter such online extremist narratives.

 Hereinafter, extremist narratives are understood as strategically constructed story-lines that are projected and nurtured through strategic communication activities by the State and non-state actors in attempts to shape how a specific target audience feels about or understands events or issues, and ultimately, guide their attitudes, thinking, or behaviour in a manner that is conducive to their aims and goals. Thus, counter-extremist narratives are understood as strategically constructed story-lines that are projected and nurtured through strategic communication or messaging activities with intention to undermine the appeal of extremist narratives of the extremist groups through a wide range of social media, including You-tube, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. in the form of a campaign.

Though it is not as straight forward as it sounds. Research on counter-extremist narrative campaigns indicates that many campaigns are not set up in a way to engage with a specific target audience and help change its thinking, attitudes, or behaviour. Often, campaigns do not have clear and measurable goals, and lack in-depth knowledge about target audience, call-for-action, or intervention components. As a result, the campaigns can appear to be monologues, where one side tells a story and the other side, targets random people from the broader public, who are supposed to listen. So, the starting point for designing a counter-extremist narratives campaign is research. One should develop a sound understanding of the problem context, underlying factors, and where, when, and how communication can potentially contribute to a solution. The audience should be carefully defined and segmented based on basis clear indicators. It is therefore recommendable to focus on narrow, specific audience segments. In addition to studying the audience, it is important to develop an in-depth understanding of extremist narratives the campaign aims to counter, it is also important to consider why members of the target audience in question may be attracted to these narratives and their motives to do so.

2. Planning a counter-narrative campaign

The decision to develop or conduct a counter-narrative campaign should be prompted by the perception that the campaign can contribute to raising awareness about, addressing, or overcoming a specific extremist or hate speech problem within a specific community or among a specific targeted audience to achieve a particular social or behavioural change. A counter-narrative campaign needs assessment substantiates such a perception through a methodologically sound research process that supports the assessment and analysis of extremist or hate speech situation in question. This phase helps to find an answer to the most relevant question:

  • what is the long-term consequence or effect of the campaign that will lead to the ultimate social or behavioural change we aim to contribute to? Examples, facilitating and encouraging youth from engaging in online conversations that advocate to or promote violent extremism or hate speech.

 

That is, setting a counter-narrative campaign’s expected impact helps ensure that we understand research data, and make sure that we use the most effective channels, message, and medium to realise, achieve what we want to accomplish by considering the thoughts, opinions, values, or behaviour of the target audience vis-à-vis the extremist or the hate speech situation in question. Once we have a clear picture about the target audience and the longer-term results (the ultimate social or behavioural change we aim to contribute to), we then work backward to set or define the campaign objectives, think about the right message, select the medium to use, and decide whether a messenger is relevant or not. So, the first step is defining the audience. Identifying the right audience for a counter-narrative campaign and further understand the reasons why we are going to address this audience is the first important consideration. Before beginning the process of designing a campaign, make sure you have thought about whether you want to produce the content intended for social or behavioural change among young people with hate speech and extremist views or to facilitate young people from engaging, supporting, sharing, and promoting hate speech or extremist views.

 

This helps to focus your overall counter narrative campaign design, delivery. For example, you might want to create a preventative campaign educating a broader audience:

  • This could be young people, parents, youth workers, or organisations and other practitioners working with youth.
  • Reach a more specific age or gender group such as young women aged 18-25, or teenagers aged 14-18.
  • Reach young people actively watching or searching for extremist content online who could be at-risk of violent radicalisation.
  • Influence members of online extremist groups or the followers of known extremist accounts.

 

Campaigns can attempt to reach more than one audience. However, it is important not to be too ambitious by trying to reach everyone. Be as specific as possible by focusing more on and thinking about exactly who the right audience is, and why this audience. The characteristics of the audience should determine the message, medium, and messenger for the counter-narrative campaign. It is therefore vital that these characteristics are included when thinking about the audience, as these help a campaigner to really know who they are trying to reach, why and how. The next step in the planning phase is researching where your audience spends their time online: understanding how your audience acts both online and offline will help you to figure out who they are and how best to reach them. Researching your audience can be as simple as talking to them! It is important to engage with, and if possible, co-design counter-narrative content with members of your audience themselves.

For example, if you are looking to engage with youth:

  • Recruit and run focus groups with young people in your community.
  • Ask them what they think about your message or campaign and the kind of content they are likely to engage with.
  • You can also gain insights into your audience by researching them online without meeting face to face.
  • Conduct use pre-existing research to understand how your audience interact online, what platforms they use and what they are interested in.

 

The final step is setting a comprehensive goal and achievable objectives for your counter narrative campaign. Tangible objectives help to have a target to clear aim for and provide a framework or benchmark to evaluate the impact your campaign has had. To define objectives, consider the size of your audience, and the resources you have available. For example:

  • A goal might be teaching young people in a local community about some of the recruitment tactics used by extremist groups. Or strengthening young people attitudes about the narratives used by extremist groups.
  • Objectives might then be to get 5000 views and 100 shares of campaign video on Facebook from your targeted audience.

 

To learn from a campaign, it is a good idea to think about objectives that can help to evaluate success. Most social media platforms have in-built analytics that allow you to monitor your campaign and determine whether the objectives were met or not. Before getting started, it is also a good idea to reflect on these questions:

  • Are you okay for your campaign to be linked back to you or your organisation?
  • Are you happy for your organisation to be visible online?
  • Are you prepared for members of extremist groups to contact you?
  • Have you taken into the account the safety of your messenger or others that may be featured in your content?

3. Creating a counter-narrative campaign

There is no one-fit-all rule for creating counter-narrative content, though while creating the content of your campaign you should be as creative, bold, and open-minded as possible, and seek to test out a wide range of different styles and formats with your audience to determine what works best. Where possible, it is productive to develop counter-narrative content with some members of your targeted audiences; this is the best way to ensuring that your content includes a message that your targeted audiences will resonate with. So, great counter-narrative content can be created without spending much of your resources; there are many free tools and apps available out there, which can be used effectively over time with a little practice. The most important thing is that the content reflects your campaign strategy:

  • The extremist narrative or hate speech situation you want to address.
  • The ultimate social or behavioural change you seek to contributing to.
  • The target audiences you want to interact and engage with.
  • The overall goal(s) of your campaign.
  • The overall objectives of your campaign.

 

Type of content to create

The first thing to consider is creating an engaging message that resonates with your targeted audiences, and through which medium your message will be the most effective at reaching the targeted audiences of your campaign. Whether you are trying to find a music to set the right tone for your video or trying to decide on the colour-scheme of your website, have a range of options and ask people for their thoughts and feedback. If possible, ask your audiences directly what they think. If this is not an option then you can ask colleagues, friends and family or others working on counter-narrative campaigns. Choosing the right medium that fits well with your message will depend on your resources, budget, any in-house expertise, and social media platforms you intend to you use:

  • Videos: short films or animations.
  • Images: photos or memes.
  • Text: slogans, hashtags, or open letters.
  • Online literature: brochures or informative posters.
  • Audio recordings: podcasts or short audio-clips.
  • Comics: manga, short panels, or graphic novels.

 

To maximise efforts, make sure to play to your strengths creatively and be realistic with the resources you have at your disposal. Remember, simple content and a well-executed campaign can be done effectively with a small budget. Further, keep in mind that your choice of platforms can also affect the medium to use, but what is the most important, is to make sure your campaign runs on the platforms your targeted audiences use most.

  • Videos and pictures often do well on social media as they are more visible on people’s news feeds or time-lines.
  • Text-based campaigns may work better with platforms that focus on discussion such as Facebook page, Twitter, blogs, or forums.

Video can be difficult and expensive to make but does not have to be. If you do decide to use video, make sure that it is short, attention grabbing to retain audiences online. Consider using emotive music to maximise impact but be sure to check copyright restrictions. Copyright is a type of intellectual property (others include original designs, patents, and trademarks). Intellectual property allows the creator or the owner of an idea or original work exclusive legal rights to use, reproduce and distribute it. Be aware that copyright laws will vary between different countries and jurisdictions. If you are planning to make your content freely available online, or offline, then a copyright licence can protect your content from being copied, changed, or altered by others. The Creative Commons website offers advice on what you can and cannot use, under flexible copyright licenses.

 

Identifying the right content

To identifying the right content for your counter-narrative campaign, you need Look back at the extremist narrative or hate speech situation you want to address and the ultimate social or behavioural change you seek to contributing to. This helps to determine what types of content (messages, mediums, and messengers) are most likely to reach and engage your audience:

  • Carefully consider the message and ensure you know precisely how your content will convey it. Consult your audiences if possible. If you are hoping to reach more extreme audiences then research the types of content they tend to consume.
  • Your decision on what medium to use will help to identify exactly what production methods to use to create the impactful content you need. For example, using a camera and tools like Photoshop or Instagram to create and edit content for a photo-based campaign.
  • If you have decided to partner with another messenger such as a former or survivor, you need to consider: Have they told their story publicly before and are they happy with how it is being used? Are they aware of the potential for media attention and might they wish to remain anonymous? Are there safety issues to consider such as reprisals from former associates?

 

Keep the goals and objectives in mind. If the goal is to interact with your audience and start conversations, then your content needs to be engaging enough to spark this interaction and leave some unanswered questions. If you want your audience to take action, then how are you going to persuade them? If you want them to learn something, how can you be informative but not lecturing? Remember, whilst it is important to be creative, make sure it is not at the expense of your campaign’s goal, and that your content is tailored to achieve your goal and impact.

4. Further reading

Campaing Strategy step by step, developed by Terram Pacis.

Counter narrative campaigns development.