News

The Christchurch Call: A Commendable, but Difficult Initiative.

 

By Maxime Bérubé, SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow, SOMEONE Project and UNESCO-PREV Chair

Since the beginning of the 21st century, most societies and extremist movements worldwide have invested in digital spaces. Some extremists take advantage of the democratization of the Internet and the advent of social networks to promote terrorist organizations and violence. To undermine their efforts, a growing number of state leaders and technology companies are joining a recent initiative known as the “Christchurch Call.” This initiative, launched by the French and New Zealand governments, proposes the use of global means to combat the promotion and incitement to hatred and violence in the digital context. As laudable as this approach may be, it does, however, offer many legal, ethical and technical challenges.

Legal Inconsistencies

Although many States have significantly strengthened their legislative framework to combat violent extremism in recent years, adjustments to this effect vary from country to country and aren’t applied uniformly. In Canada, unlike France for example, a judge must agree with the deletion of digital content deemed illegal. As the issues related to the dissemination of this online material transcend borders, it becomes necessary to maintain consistency regarding legislative frameworks. Thus, allowing for a uniform application of the established procedures. In the same vein, standardization must also be applied to the conditions of use for the different platforms where the problematic content is distributed. Otherwise, its diffusion and practices might possibly adapt, resulting in a partial and fragmented solution. Additionally, the United States, an essential player in this fight, hasn’t joined the call.

Ethical and Technical Limits

If global measures can be applied to quickly or instantly remove undesirable content from the digital realm, certain technological limits are important to consider. Firstly, collaboration with countless players in the web industry is essential, as only they can control the activities related to their platforms. Although the main and wealthiest web “giants” seem to have followed suit, technology companies with insufficient resources for this purpose, and who are also popular with violent extremist movements, will still require incentives. Also, current technologies prevent immediate deletion. Content is usually removed within 24 hours or less, but often after numerous users have consulted it. Inevitably, logistical and technical delays influence such practices because deletion by computerized systems still requires human supervision to avoid the removal of content that shouldn’t be censored, thus respecting freedom of expression. In recent years, several thousand web pages and social media accounts have been shut down or closed. While this may reduce the quantity and scope of extremist content or terrorist propaganda in the digital realm, the very nature of the Internet makes it highly unlikely that we can hope to remove all controversial content.

Finally, without wanting to sound pessimistic, this call would appear to be facing significant obstacles that require great thought. This repressive approach also lacks unanimity because of the limitations outlined above. To remedy this situation—without undermining the principles of freedom of expression—a more educational approach would be advantageous. Rather than trying to eliminate content from the digital realm or quickly censoring statements, redirecting this initiative towards a globalized strategy of social education—focused primarily on the development of critical thinking and digital literacy—would provide concrete long-term results, and widespread societal benefits.

Landscape of Hate and Pig Destroyer Event- Montreal 2019

Grimposium, Project Someone and their long-standing partner Heavy Montreal are proud to announce the return of grindcore legends Pig Destroyer to Montreal on Friday, July 26, 2019. This powerful and intimate event will open with local electronic improv outfit, Landscape of Hate, run by Project Someone director Vivek Venkatesh and his colleague Owen Chapman of Concordia University. It will also offer creative workshops with both bands and a panel discussion on racial and social profiling featuring local activists, youth and community leaders. Workshops and panel session are free to the public. The full schedule of activities will be announced in mid-July on Grimposium.com

Tickets for this unique event are on sale shortly here

Posters of Misappropriated Runic Symbols Going to Auction to Fight Discrimination

In September 2017, Grimposium and Enslaved teamed up in Québec City, Canada for the one-off NordiQC festival—a celebration of Bergen-based music, culture, tattoo and visual art. As part of the public engagement activities at NordiQC, Grimposium founder Vivek Venkatesh and Enslaved founders Ivar Bjørnson and Kjetil Grutle teamed up with Québec-based visual artist Filip Ivanović to create a video reclaiming runic narratives from right-wing extremists. Bjørnson and Grutle drew out 24 Runic symbols on Ivanović’s NordiQC posters, explained the meaning of each of these, and talked about how they were being misappropriated by extremist groups to promote racist ideals.

Now, in July of 2019, Grimposium and Enslaved are proud to collaborate with Eistnaflug to auction these unique posters—which have been signed by all the members of Enslaved—during the festival itself! Proceeds from the auction will be donated to local Icelandic initiatives that promote community resilience to discrimination.

New Policy Briefs Targeting Canadian Social Issues

As part of our work with the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence’s Community Resilience Fund (CRF), Project Someone is proud to announce the completion of a series of policy briefs that target a number of contemporary social issues with a potential for radicalization and violence in Canada.

The five policy briefs (available in English only) were developed by Tieja Thomas, Jennifer Faucher, Jennifer Morrow, and Peter Dimitrakopoulos. These summarize the findings from our CACDA (Corpus Assisted Critical Discourse Analysis) of specific online conversations in Canada surrounding themes of Islamophobia, misogyny towards female parliamentarians, the Far Right, multiculturalism, and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Each brief contains a summary, methodology, discussion and reference, as well as suggested readings.

To read more about the project please click here.

To view and download the briefs, please click below:

Indigenous Relations in Canada

Islamophobia in Canada

Multiculturalism in Canada

Online Misogyny in Canadian Politics

The Far-Right in Canada

 

New Project Examines How Children Construct Narratives of Self and Other


By Dan Mamlok and Sandra Chang-Kredl

How do children experience offline and online activities and what do these entail? How do children understand themselves in relation to the media they use? How do parents perceive their children’s experiences? What are some common narratives children learn through offline and online activities, and how might these narratives influence their identities and their understanding of the other? These are some questions we are currently studying.

In recent years, Project Someone has explored various aspects of online hate speech and violent extremism. The initiative has developed 11 projects that aim to advance critical thinking, social pedagogy, and curricular plans for preventing hate speech. Considering the growing participation of children (including young children) in digital media, this study expands the initiative to examine how children 12 and under—typically the cut-off age for social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram—are initiated and subsumed within a culture of popular texts, including games, TV shows, video games, YouTube videos, books, and cultural artifacts.

This research project is comprised of theoretical and empirical research. The theoretical segment on the construction of children’s identity is based on sociological and psychological theories. In brief, we are looking at how children develop their social identities, and how they internalize certain social categories, such as gender, race and class. Understanding how children perceive and internalize these concepts is crucial for recognizing the ways in which children will ultimately develop their understanding of the other. This will, in turn, help us to develop pedagogical approaches to work with children of different ages, through recognizing cultural artifacts as social texts, thus advancing a more critical worldview.

The qualitative study is based on play observations and discussions with children between the ages of 4 and 11, and interviews with their parents. In congruence with the theoretical framework, the purpose of the qualitative research study is to investigate the processes through which children’s identities are influenced by the cultural artifacts they use and to which they are exposed. Currently, we are working on data collection through child-led play sessions with the young participants and interviews with their parents in their home environments. This will allow us to deepen our understanding of how children’s interactions with social texts can influence their construction of self and other, and create strategies for developing critical thinking and agency among this population.

In our next posts, we will elaborate on the theoretical framework and share some initial findings from our qualitative research study.

Global News Tracking the Rise of White Supremacy in Canada

 

Global News recently published “The Rise of White Supremacy and Its New Face in the 21st Century,” a news story that examines the rise of this movement and the alt-right in Canada and the US. Experts are warning that leaders and followers alike are more sophisticated than before, and thanks to the Internet and social media’s wide reach, they’re increasingly difficult to detect, thus making hate speech harder to eradicate.

The article also features an interview with Vivek Venkatesh, Director of Project Someone and UNESCO Co-Chair in Prevention of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism, who highlights the importance of developing digital literacy skills in combatting hate speech. Venkatesh adds that by doing so, people can better comprehend the causes of such behaviour and establish open and meaningful dialogue.

To read the full article click here

New Publication on “Necrophilic Empathy in Cervantes”

Bradley Nelson and Vivek Venkatesh of Concordia University in collaboration with Jason Wallin of the University of Alberta, have recently published a new piece titled “Necrophilic Empathy: An Urgent Reading of Miguel de Cervantes’s La Numancia” in Hispanic Issues Online.

According to the foreword, “This essay continues a conversation that began several years ago between Brad Nelson, an early modern scholar of Hispanic literature, and two specialists in Education, Vivek Venkatesh and Jason Wallin, concerning the use and misuse of public spectacle and the social media that frame said spectacles with respect to the modern phenomenon of hate speech. Nelson’s research has centered on emblematic allegory, the political use of visual spectacle and, lately, aesthetic mediations of early modern scientific thought. His interest in the religious, ethnic, and racial ‘othering’ that occurs with such frequency and efficacy in Spanish Golden Age theater was the point of departure for fruitful discussions and collaborations with Venkatesh’s and Wallin’s work on homologous modes of violence in and surrounding various extreme metal scenes. Venkatesh has theorised how individual and communal identities influence the production and consumption of narratives of dystopia, racism, violence and terrorism in post-modern contexts. His work is grounded in elements of social pedagogy, which—in an era of post-web 2.0—advocate for the reflexive and inclusive adoption of mobile and digital media in creating frameworks for pluralistic dialogues. Wallin’s research attends to the psychoanalysis of hate and its vehicles in popular media and media consumption. Attending specifically to film and music media that explore hatred and horror, Wallin’s work attempts to articulate the precursors of hate and the particular psychological make-up that founds hateful speech and actions” (97–98).

The article is part of Writing in the End Times: Apocalyptic Imagination in the Hispanic World, the latest volume of Hispanic Issues online and edited by David Castillo and Bradley Nelson.

You can read the full open access article by clicking here.

Bibliographical reference:

Bradley Nelson, Vivek Venkatesh, and Jason Wallin. “Necrophilic Empathy: An Urgent Reading of Miguel de Cervantes’s La Numancia.” Writing in the End Times: Apocalyptic Imagination in the Hispanic World. Ed. David Castillo and Brad Nelson. Hispanic Issues On Line 23 (2019): 97–124.

New Landscape of Hope Explainer Video

Landscape of Hope, a youth oriented educational digital arts workshop and performance initiative, was launched in February 2019 in Montreal, Canada. In this nine-minute explainer video, co-founders Vivek Venkatesh, director of Project Someone and UNESCO Co-Chair for the Prevention of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism, and Associate Professor of Inclusive Practices in Visual Arts in the Department of Art Education at the Faculty of Fine Arts, and Owen Chapman, Associate Professor of Communication Studies of Concordia University, describe this endeavor as a “multi-stakeholder youth facing project that magnifies youth’s voices as they pertain to resilience.” The project is based on Landscape of Hate, a multimedia collective that explores the ways in which social media propagates hate speech.

Additional collaborators on the project include Annabelle Brault, music therapy Lecturer in the Creative Arts Therapies Department at Concordia University and Sandra Chang-Kredl, Associate Professor in the Department of Education, a developer of curriculum for educators and young people regarding hate and discrimination in social media. Professor Chang-Kredl maintains that fine arts and media arts programs like these are on the cutting edge of making real world impacts on youth.

Although the focus of the project is the creation of a space for youth to express themselves on these topics, Landscape of Hope also helps to break down barriers between academia and the public through accessibility thanks to university resources and funding agencies that support it.

 

Landscape of Hope performance in Iceland

Landscape of Hope will perform with Bardspec at the Eistnaflug 2019 festival in Neskaupstaður, Iceland in July. Festival tickets are on sale here.

 

BardSpec is the ambient project from Enslaved composer/guitarist Ivar Bjørnson. Landscape of Hope is an improvised multimedia and musical outfit which magnifies narratives to counter discrimination and build resilience; it is created and curated by Canadian research-creation specialists and Grimposium festival veterans Vivek Venkatesh and Owen Chapman. Canadian filmmaker David Hall (Uneasy Sleeper) – who also runs live visuals for Bardspec and is a visual designer for Landscape of Hope – will contribute his unique brand of provocative and thought-provoking films. The Eistnaflug 2019 performance will be the first live collaboration between BardSpec and Landscape of Hope.

Update on Project Someone in Lebanon

Project SOMEONE in Lebanon has as its main objective the prevention of hate on social media platforms. With its 11 projects developed by collaborative research practitioners, we offer the Lebanese civic community a variety of curricular activities meant to open dialogue on understanding and building resilience against hate speech. While doing so, SOMEONE tailors those projects to best suit the needs of the community with which we work.

Between April 2018 and March 2019 we partnered with five local Lebanese NGOs who represent different minority groups. These include special needs individuals (Youth Association of the Blind and the Inclusion Network), women (Collective for Research and Training Development Action), Syrian refugees (Basmeh and Zeitooneh), Palestinian refugees (Majed Abu Sharar Media Foundation), and youth in K–12 settings as represented by Heritage College.

Workshops in Lebanon

The workshops focus primarily on critical digital literacy and social pedagogy in an aim to build capacity and empower Lebanese communities. After undergoing a rigorous needs assessment, contextualization of all SOMEONE workshops were deemed a key component of the interventions. The latter involves the active participation of head of NGO organizations, co-developers, and co-facilitators from the fabric of the Lebanese community in the development, implementation, and the contextualization of all workshop materials. Following this strategy ensures that the voices of the minorities are heard through local case studies and storytelling that participants will be able to relate to easily.

There are 4 types of workshops, 16 in total, locally in Lebanon. The first type targets school teachers and is titled Digital citizens of Tomorrow. Five workshops took place from July to mid-October 2018 with a total of 86 participating teachers who have an impact on secondary stakeholders in schools all over Lebanon. The second type of workshop targets social workers and is titled Digital Empowerment. Four workshops took place in September and October with a total of 83 participating social workers. The third type of workshop titled Online Media and the Critical Thinker targets social media activists and aspiring journalists. Six workshops took place in October and November 2018 reaching  150 young activists. Last but not least, we had one workshop in October of the fourth type of workshop titled Web 2.0: A platform for Peace (not Hate) for 25 university professors.

Workshop image credits: Vahan Saghdejian

From Hate to Hope: Building Understanding and Resilience

 

To read more about our trilingual Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)  click here. You can also click here to see a series of 7 videos from the MOOC which were developed with experts in extremism, political science, psychology, religion, humanities, education, art-based pedagogies, sociology, media studies and computer science.

Words in Context

To read more about the database project click here.

This project was funded by Global Affairs Canada (2018-2019).