BEIRUT: Fourteen media students at Notre Dame University, Louaizeh, have set out to “box out” extremism in an ambitious media and on-the-ground campaign as part of Facebook’s Global Digital Challenge sponsored by the U.S. State Department. Under the slogan “break down fear and build up tolerance,” the students are seeking to raise awareness, increase understanding and build tolerance in Lebanon.
“The term ‘box out’ is a technical term used in basketball when you secure your territory and block the other team from coming in,” Arshalouys Tenbelian, one of the student leaders of the campaign, told The Daily Star. “This is what we’re doing with extremism.”
The campaign is officially endorsed by Lebanese basketball players Bassel Bawji and Rony Fahed. It has also received attention from the government with support from Information Minister Melhem Riachi. The minister and the athletes will be featured in the social media arm of the campaign to help spread the word.
The Facebook competition challenges student groups to counter the “pervasiveness of hate and extremism on social media.” Winners of the competition will be awarded $10,000 for their initiative.
While Tenbelian expressed hopes to win, she stressed their commitment to catalyze social change beyond the competition, saying “the real work is here in Lebanon.”
Following a period of research, the NDU students decided to target “at-risk” individuals between 16 to 35-years-old. With selected participants, the group conducts “social experiments” by introducing an individual to a group they hold unfounded resentment against.
“We took a person who had issues with Palestinians to a camp in Sour [Tyre]. They spent one day with a Palestinian refugee, lived the life and saw the challenges that they had,” Tenbelian said. “Online, we will share before and after videos of this person’s experience across different social media platforms.”
The campaign also aims to create a space for at-risk youth, offering them a platform of self-expression.
“We’re working on placing booths with cameras over various places in Lebanon. The objective is for people to record their grievances and issues they feel they’re facing. The videos will be streamed via Facebook and sent to political figures to show them the issues young people face,” Tenbelian explained.
Commenting on political and religious divides in the country, the NDU student said the group wanted to include a diverse range of participants that would reflect a broad cross-section of Lebanese society. “A lot of knowledge is being spread,” she said.