News

Project Someone welcomes Dr. Leslie Touré Kapo

Leslie Touré Kapo, PhD

The Project Someone team warmly welcomes Dr. Leslie Touré Kapo, our incoming postdoctoral community advisor. Dr. Kapo will be contributing to Landscape of Hope by mobilizing community organizations in Black and racialized communities of Montreal. He will also be developing workshops for the Innovative Social Pedagogy project with Employment and Social Development Canada.

Dr. Kapo’s research interests lie in urban studies, youth studies, critical race theory, and gender and sexuality. He explores the impact of racialization processes on the everyday life of youth in low-income and immigrant neighbourhoods. His expertise in research and project management largely stems from his experience as a youth and social worker in France and Quebec. He received his master’s degree in sociology from Université de Perpignan via Domitia, and completed his PhD with the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS). Dr. Kapo’s dissertation explored the everyday and ordinary life of young racialized Montrealers. This ethnography followed 28 young racialized Montrealers between Fall 2015 and Spring 2018 and shed light on undermined dynamics such as stigmatization, islamophobia, racism and ordinary violence. His dissertation was awarded Best thesis 2020-2021 by the Centre Urbanisation Culture Société of INRS, as well as the Best thesis award 2021 in Humanities and Social Sciences of the Association des doyennes et des doyens des études supérieures au Québec. 

Text courtesy of Leslie Touré Kapo

New UNESCO-PREV report examines the role of program evaluations in extremism prevention efforts

Report title page

A new UNESCO-PREV report, titled Constraints and opportunities in evaluating programs for prevention of violent extremism: How practitioners see it, is now available to the public. Co-authored by David Morin, co-chair of UNESCO-PREV, Pierre-Alain Clément and Pablo Madriaza, the report analyzes the experiences of professionals and practitioners working in Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) when it comes to the evaluation of their work. Drawing on interviews conducted by the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) and the results of a focus group conducted by the chair’s Ottawa counterpart, the study analyzes testimonies from a total of 57 professionals from around the world. 

The report begins from the observation that there is a lack of “rigorously defined conceptual and empirical foundations” to most PVE programs. As a result, the authors observe, stakeholders have little evidence-based data and guidelines to rely on when designing, implementing and funding programs aimed at countering violent extremism. Program evaluations are an important way of addressing this issue. As the authors observe, “evaluations can provide a better understanding of the mechanisms and processes that make programs succeed or fail.” 

Yet at the same time, they note that practitioners often perceive program evaluations as a constraint, given that their work is not exactly suited to “tightly scheduled evaluations that use traditional performance indicators.” This interplay between the opportunities and constraints posed by evaluations, and the question of how said constraints are to be resolved, makes up the bulk of the report. As the first step in a larger project on evaluation of prevention practices, the report will no doubt serve as a crucial resource for future developments in the field.

Read the report. 

United Nations Counter-Terrorism Week 2021: A panel discussion on online hate

 

United Nations counter-terrorism week

 

In his role as UNESCO-PREV co-chair, Project Someone director Vivek Venkatesh recently moderated a panel discussion as part of the United Nations 2021 Counter-Terrorism Week. Titled From online hate to offline violence: Addressing and countering hate speech and violent extremism through education in a digital world, the event brought together high-level stakeholders in government and civil society to explore the role of information literacy in countering the spread and escalation of online hate speech. The discussion was co-organized by UNESCO, OSAPG (UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect), OSRSG-VAC (UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children) and UNOCT (UN Office of Counter-Terrorism), in partnership with the Kingdom of Jordan and the Kingdom of Norway. Speakers included UN officials working in the fields of counter-terrorism, violence prevention and education, Facebook’s head of counterterrorism policy for the EMEA, Norway’s Minister of Justice and Jordan’s Minister Plenipotentiary. Advocating for a “whole-society” approach to the issues of hate speech and violent extremism, the speakers explored prevention efforts that both center the educational realm and extend well beyond it. 

Watch a recording of the event. 

Vivek Venkatesh appears on Radio Noon with Shawn Apel, weighs in on debate over CBC disabling Facebook comments

 

Vivek and Shawn

Photos: CBC Radio One; Radio-Canada/Christian Côté

Director Vivek Venkatesh recently appeared on Radio Noon Quebec with Shawn Apel to weigh in on the CBC’s decision to close Facebook comments on its news stories. While emphasizing that the public broadcaster has a duty to protect its employees from abuse, Venkatesh argued that the strategy of shutting down commentary altogether––while continuing to share posts on the platform––amounts to something of a cop out. Rather than addressing the problem of dangerous and hateful commentary, Venkatesh explains, such a move simply “manages public perception of the problem.” Instead, argues Venkatesh, we should be having a larger discussion about platform moderation and the difference between healthy agonism and divisive antagonism.

Tune in at 39:49 to hear more from Vivek. 

 

Upcoming webinar on preventing violent extremism

Conference flyer

Photo Credit: Teaching & Learning Center of the University of Siena and Chaire UNESCO-PREV

Dr. Ryan Scrivens and director Vivek Venkatesh will be participating in an upcoming conference held by the UNESCO-PREV chair in partnership with the Teaching & Learning Center of the University of Siena, titled “Preventing Violent Extremism.” Scrivens will be presenting on research conducted as part of “Insights from Former Extremists,” alongside presentations by Italian colleagues of The Forward Project. Venkatesh will be moderating the discussion.

When: Wednesday, June 23rd, 9-11 am (EDT)

Fill out this form to register.

Project Someone research featured on Canada’s National Observer

 

protest against anti-asian racism

Photo by Jason Leung via Unsplash

Writing for Canada’s National Observer, Jesse Firempong recently posed the following: what can be done to prevent and address hate, beyond its criminalization? To answer this question, Firempong turned to Project Someone director Vivek Venkatesh for his expertise on building community resilience to hate and radicalization. In the article, Venkatesh advocates for the importance of exclusive spaces for targeted groups to process and heal together, and emphasizes the role of empathy when it comes to unlearning hate. Sharing lessons learned from Project Someone initiatives like “Insights from Former Extremists,” Venkatesh underscores an approach that balances prevention efforts with community support systems.

Read the article.

Director Vivek Venkatesh to participate in community roundtable on urban security

 

Project Someone Director Vivek Venkatesh will be joining a diverse panel of activists and experts in a roundtable on urban security this Thursday––the final event in a webinar series titled “Territories in Conversation: Urban Security.” The series, led by Benoit Décary-Secours and Leslie Touré Kapo in partnership with local nonprofit Paroles D’excluEs, aims to promote critical conversations about popular discourses on issues of urban (in)security. More specifically, it seeks to shed light on how Montreal youth in marginalized neighbourhoods are racialized and scapegoated by the media in discussions on urban safety. Thursday’s roundtable is titled “Trajectoires de lutte : résistances locales et émancipation.” 

When: Thursday, June 17th, 2021 – 6 pm (online via Zoom)

See the event page for more information. 

Watch previous episodes of the series. 

 

New article on the “collateral damage” of COVID-19 in The Conversation, Le Journal Métro

 

From left to right: Dr. Cécile Rousseau, Dr. Vivek Venkatesh, Dr. Ghayda Hassan and Dr. David Morin.

Project Someone director Vivek Venkatesh recently got together with UNESCO-PREV co-chairs David Morin and Ghayda Hassan, alongside colleague Cécile Rousseau, to share with the public some key takeaways from their research on the social and cultural impacts of COVID-19 on marginalized communities. Writing for The Conversation, the authors draw connections between a political climate polarized by racial violence, economic precarity, and social isolation, demonstrating how these factors have disproportionately affected those already on the margins. Just republished in the Journal Métro, the article combines the authors’ interdisciplinary expertise to highlight the essential role of social policy, education and the media, alongside public health measures, in responding to the pandemic. “Beyond the physical health impact of COVID-19 on society,” they write, “the related interpersonal and social violence can be devastating, and require immediate attention.” 

 

Read the article here

New study examines link between COVID-related experiences of discrimination and social distancing behaviour

 

Photo: Dollar Gill

A new study, co-authored by researchers from McGill University’s departments of Psychiatry and Epidemiology and Project Someone director Vivek Venkatesh, is now available online in The American Journal of Health Promotion. The open-access article, titled COVID-19 Experiences and social distancing: Insights from the theory of planned behaviour, examines how COVID-related attitudes and experiences impact individuals’ social distancing behaviour. Drawing on the results of an online survey of over 3000 adult Quebec residents, the authors analyze how perceptions of COVID-related discrimination and stigma (alongside such factors as fear of infection and prior exposure to the virus) relate to people’s intentions and actions when it comes to social distancing. The authors contend that COVID-19 prevention efforts should balance campaigns that leverage fear of infection and emphasize social norms with anti-discrimination messaging, so as not to conflate a precautionary approach with a prejudicial one. “Perhaps most importantly,” they write, “our findings are instructive on guiding public health interventions that simultaneously protect people’s lives and develop responses to the epidemic that are inclusive, equitable and universal.”

Read the article here. 

Sorting through the noise: Using computational methods to isolate key themes of online discussions

In the following blog post, Simon Rodier (pictured on the left) describes his time working with Project Someone on Words in Context and how this work relates to his Master’s thesis.

I came to Project Someone with a background in computer science and an interest in using computational methods to analyze online speech about controversial issues. 

Discussions about contentious issues in online fora are particularly fascinating to me––anecdotally, we have all seen the stark divisions that form when people debate hot topics online. We often see proponents become entrenched in their own positions, essentially preventing any productive dialogue or negotiation from occurring. To complicate matters, online discussion about any given issue often happens over many platforms, between different people, and involves large volumes of text. My goal was to dig deeper into such discussions by sorting through them computationally in order to identify the major themes at play. This approach is useful for community stakeholders seeking to intervene in the larger debate, as it gives them a sense of how the public understands and interprets the issues at stake.  

My work with Project Someone unfolded along two major axes. In the first, I worked on the Words in Context project, where my major contribution was to develop a database and website that would  house and display the results of the team’s research into online speech about contentious issues in Canada and Lebanon. Together, we created a website that allows users to dig into how specific language is used in the corpora we analyzed, which was divided into thematic sections, each represented by several quotes and keywords drawn from the source texts. 

Out of this project I developed the basis of my M.A. thesis in Educational Technology, for which I designed a methodology using topic models to computationally identify thematic groupings in text. The method leverages the statistical co-occurrence of words within documents to group them into latent “topics.” An early version of the methodology was applied to a subset of a corpus used for Words in Context, and was ultimately refined for use in my thesis to identify some of the major themes of the controversy surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018.

Taken together, both axes of my work encourage readers and communities to engage more critically with trends in online discussions about contentious issues––an important step towards more effective interventions in public debate.