Challenge Extremism Together

One year ago the White House convened a three-day summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) that brought together local, federal, and international leaders to discuss concrete steps the United States and its partners could take to develop community-oriented approaches to counter hateful extremist ideologies. Since the Summit, great strides have been made in our efforts to respond to terrorist groups not just militarily, but through a range of programs that emphasize community-led intervention.

A leading example of how we can counter extremist messaging and reach those most susceptible to it is the P2P (Peer to Peer): Challenging Extremism initiative, a U.S. government effort led by the State Department, managed by EdVenture Partners, and supported in part by Facebook. P2P is one of the many initiatives being implemented across the U.S. government. Through the dynamic outreach campaigns of P2P, we are working with university students to reach individuals vulnerable to extremist messaging, as well as the general public.

Before a full auditorium at the State Department three teams of finalists, chosen from among 45 universities that entered this semester, presented the results of their outreach campaigns. There were no limits placed on creativity or scope, as long as the campaigns focused on challenging extremism. The results were impressive and demonstrated the value of working together with communities and the private sector to solve this global challenge.

All three teams presented very different approaches toward achieving a common goal. The team from the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Switzerland developed an online campaign, #faces4heritage, to raise awareness of the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL. The campaign's social media sites have become an aggregator of important discussion for the cultural heritage preservation community. At the same time, their "Yes, With My Face!" campaign has allowed concerned citizens to make a statement against the destruction of cultural heritage by creating social media profile photos which juxtapose an image of the person's face alongside a destroyed cultural object.

The West Point team took an entirely different approach that focused on directly engaging with those most susceptible to extremist recruitment and propaganda. In this team's final presentation, they profiled how someone vulnerable to recruitment could succumb to ISIL propaganda and showcased the online peer support forums for at-risk youth they created to counteract these forces. The team heavily researched a variety of factors -- from ways ISIL propagandizes, to the time of day that their audiences are most often online, to how to communicate most effectively with youth at risk. Using this knowledge, they created several online forums, some with experts and others oriented to anyone interested in asking questions of a peer network. Despite the sensitive nature of the topics, the team didn't shy away from engaging in meaningful discussions. By offering counter narratives and information, the campaign is encouraging people to take a different course with their lives.

The team from Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences, which won the competition, created a project with scalable potential. In a country racked by daily incidents of terrorism and a collective sense of numbness to the violence, the team's project "From Apathy to Empathy" included research demonstrating how it was possible to reengage the public in calling for an end to violence. They explained how they connected social media campaigns with real events in and around Lahore, such as concerts and campus activities, to convince a greater number of people to take a stand against terrorism. They cited numerous examples of people all over the world sharing messages on social media to Challenge Extremism. They also took their campaign into schools and started dialogues on the importance of speaking out.

P2P is one of many exchange programs engaging people to create a safer and more prosperous world. We are always looking for innovative ways to engage new audiences, and the hundreds of brilliant university students participating in P2P are helping us achieve that goal. I look forward to seeing next semester's final projects and the great ideas that this program continues to inspire.