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CVE Fellows develop social media campaign to combat violent extremism

Through the U.S. Department of State’s new Peer 2 Peer (P2P): Challenging Extremism Program, four University of Maryland undergraduate students will compete against students throughout the world in developing a social media campaign that will counter violent extremist messaging.

As part of their participation in START’s Countering Violent Extremism Fellowship (CVEF), the students will create counter-narratives using social media to oppose extremists’ recruiting efforts. The program was developed in light of terrorist organizations’ recent efforts in recruiting young adults through social media.

“Using peers to help Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts allows digital natives to engage on these platforms to help promote moderation and tolerance,” said START’s Education Coordinator Marcella Morris. “Messages like those of moderation and peace are potentially more effective in their goals if they come from peers rather than as a lecture from a parent or authority figure.”

The top three of the 23 teams that participate in the program will present their campaigns in Washington, D.C., to the Bureau of Educational Cultural Affairs (ECA) at the U.S. State Department and other intergovernmental agency senior leaders. The team that takes first place will receive $5,000.

The competition hinges on the idea that social media is an attractive tool for extremists because it allows for quick access and communication for any number of topics, including recruitment and radicalization.

“The use of social media breaks down location and resource barriers once present in recruitment processes,” Morris said. “Now, rather than in-person contact, all recruiters need is an internet connection and a network of at-risk people.”

Under the guidance of their advisors, students will create their digital media content using design thinking, a process in which students research information about their audience, develop a point of view, brainstorm possible problems and solutions, and then design and test a prototype. In doing their research, students have been instructed not to directly contact violent extremists or visit high-risk environments such as online chat rooms.

 “The P2P program seemed like a great opportunity to apply what we’re learning about and researching as well as enabling a meaningful way to create an impact,” said  Sarala Prabhu, a biology and psychology double major in the CVEF program. “It’s also a way to educate the general public about what Countering Violent Extremism really encompasses.”

START’s CVEF program is a two-and-a-half-year program funded by the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security. It is designed for four full-time University of Maryland undergraduate students. The program aims at transitioning students from their undergraduate experiences to professional positions relating to CVE programming and policy-making in the homeland security science and technology arena. For more information, click here