n response to a increase in hate speech during COVID-19, graduates of KAICIID’s Social Media as a Room for Dialog Program have launched a series of online initiatives working to fight bigotry, encourage good health practices and provide much-needed humanitarian assistance.
Due to the global health crisis problems have been intensified in recent weeks such as misinformation, bigotry and abuse.
As government and health officials have worked swiftly to disseminate information on the pandemic to communities around the world, youth are stepping up, encouraging their digital followers to comply with lockdown rules and social distancing measures, and launching crowdsourced funding campaigns to meet humanitarian needs.
The Center’s Social Media as a Space for Dialog Program has since 2015 equipped more than 700 youth leaders in the Arab world with skills to combat online hate speech and extremism, and promote tolerance and moderation. At the invitation of KAICIID, program graduates used social media to raise awareness of COVID-19, provide fact-checking as a means of countering misinformation, and support religious leaders in their efforts to encourage their followers to follow the guidelines of government health.
Protecting vulnerable communities in Iraq
As with most young Iraqis, Meron Akram Kacho alternates regularly between his cell phone and laptop. However, instead of using Facebook alone to keep up with his friends, Kacho sees social media as an opportunity to tackle issues like discrimination and online violence.
He and his Hope Makers initiative (Sunaa Alamal) have responded to KAICIID ‘s call in recent weeks by launching a focused campaign to raise awareness about COVID-19, promoting fair access to health care and social protection without discrimination.
“My friends and I used our Facebook and Instagram accounts during the lockdown to promote the # stayhome campaign (khaleek billarbeit). By calling on others to serve the vulnerable and marginalized in our communities, the collective effort helped create social cohesion, “he said.
Owing to his own encounters with violence, Kacho was originally attracted to KAICIID’s Social Media as a Space for Dialog Program and its dedication to promoting peace in the region. His father was abducted by militants in 2007, and his family was forced to sell their property and belongings in order to pay the ransom. In 2014, ISIS fighters’ takeover of Mosul meant they needed to flee their home.
“We made no mistakes. We have not deserved such misery. No-one should be defined by religion or ethnicity, “he said.
Kacho ‘s experiences today inspire him to use social media as an tool for positive social change and a way to foster online peace and inclusion. Throughout the pandemic, he and his nine-member team welcomed local artists to hold multimedia exhibits, sewn masks for the sick, explore ways to spend Ramadan at home, and educate religious leaders of different religions on the value of social distance.
The team has translated its advocacy activities into Arabic, Assyrian, Kurdish and Turkmen, in order to be inclusive.
“We believe that social separation can be used productively by strengthening and promoting social cohesion. Our main message is simplistic, and that’s not the end of the world. Together we can get through this,” Kacho said.
Combatting online discrimination in Jordan
In Jordan, during COVID-19 Amer abu Dalo mobilizes its digital community against online hate speech and bullying.
“Coronavirus victims are being rampantly harassed and shamed in Jordan. Via Facebook , Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter and live streaming along with television interviews, we reach out to people to combat this activity,” he said.
Abu Dalo is the head of the ‘Silah (Connections) Project’ under the ‘We Grow’ (Nahnu Nanhad) initiative, funded by KAICIID, which works across the social media to improve dialog and respect. A 2018 graduate of Social Media as a Space for Dialog Programme, Abu Dalo has shown a knack for activism from an early age. He started his first social mobilisation efforts at the age of 12. He now has a team of 3,500 volunteers, and 250,000 followers, on social media channels.
The Abu Dalo team worked to fight disinformation and raise awareness about social distance and handwashing.
His latest campaign, launched with KAICIID ‘s help, fights disinformation during the pandemic, raises awareness of the value of fact-checking before sharing news, and encourages his audience to rely on credible sources for their information. Abu Dalo says he’s still focusing on making sure those who have contracted the virus don’t get shamed online.
“About 600 participants were trained to fight hate speech and prejudices in society including the stigmatization of COVID-19 victims. We used the hashtag ‘We are all partners in duty’ (Kuluna shuraka fi almaswuwlia) to spread positive messages among people of various religious faiths.” Abu Dalo said.
Use of social media to strengthen humanitarian responses in Lebanon
Mohamed Al Jundy’s Growth and Development company (Tanmiya wa Tahseen) in Lebanon combines social media outreach with on-the-ground emergency response through its Akkar Emergency Unit (Ghurfat Tawari Akkar).
The Akkar region is home to half a million people spread over 200 villages, over an area of 750 square kilometres. After the pandemic, Al Jundy has stepped up its online efforts to raise donations, and help meet its members ‘ needs.
“We ‘re trying to help families survive during the lockdown, preventing COVID-19 from spreading without public services and widespread unemployment into a broad northern Lebanese area,” Al Jundy said.
As well as conducting online crowdfunding drives for government hospitals, Akkar Emergency Unit members have been sanitizing churches and mosques in recent weeks. Al Jundy says the volunteers included local politicians, leaders of the unions, journalists and the general public.
The Akkar response team in Lebanon uses social media to provide on-the-ground funding and humanitarian assistance supplies.
The project also launched a campaign, “Bread and Salt” (Khubz wa Meleh), which, according to Al Jundy, offers two loaves of bread a day to poor families. He and his team, along with dozens of churches and mosques, have distributed over 74,900 food baskets to 37,452 poor families in Akkar.
Most of Al Jundy’s aid initiatives are deliberately inter-religious, he said, “including every stratum of society. This is especially important in Akkar, which is home to a number of Palestinian and Syrian refugees because of the shared Homs border and. Tartus is from Syria.
Al Jundy cites his experience with the Social Media as a Space for Dialog program as an inspiration for his online humanitarian campaign during COVID-19.
He said: “Thanks to KAICIID’s training and exposure, we ‘re trying to create an atmosphere of love that allows us to leave hate behind and help each other during this troubled time.”
From some news agency