WT2: Work Together, Win Together’s Phase II was launched in February 2020 and was a 16-month project supported by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to strengthen peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka through raising youth’s capacity to recognize hate speech and advance peaceful co-existence and reconciliation on social media. Search targeted youth in 5 provinces of Sri Lanka — Western, Southern, Central, Eastern, and Northern — to provide capacity-building programs, action grants, and a social media campaign.
After the Easter Sunday attacks of April 21, 2019, the heightened inter-ethnic and religious tensions exposed and further sharpened the deep divides in Sri Lanka. The events made it clear that the transitional justice and reconciliation process had not garnered the expected results, and that more investments needed to be made. Immediately after the bombings social media was rife with fake news and hate speech, largely driven by Sri Lanka’s youth population. However, there were also many young people in the aftermath of the violence that took to the streets to condemn ethnic and religious based violence, organized initiatives to support the victims of the attacks, and supported actions calling for peace. We needed to build and expand this cohort of young change agents. There was a need for a vibrant youth-led social media based initiative that would promote a message of coexistence and non-violence.
Win Together, Work Together: Phase II project was initiated as a continuation of the Work Together, Win Together projectimplemented by Search from December 2018-2019. The first phase of the project’s goal mobilized youth to engage in peacebuilding work through encouraging them to produce social media content to promote coexistence and address hate speech. Phase II of Work Together, Win Together targeted 1,200 youth ages 18-25 who already have a social media presence to contribute to a more vibrant reconciliation process through a focus on development and dissemination of positive stories of peaceful coexistence through social media.
Search used a “learn by doing” approach, where fun, challenge-based experiential training and action grants provided youth interested in social media with the opportunity to engage in peacebuilding work. The initiative took into account the need for engaging the same group multiple times over a period of time to ensure the youth participants developed the necessary skills and interest to engage in long-term issues of peace and reconciliation online. Search also employed the 3C approach of content creation, countering, and championing.
The project team used a tailored approach to gender empowerment, recognizing that women’s roles vary in different districts and between more urban and rural areas, which are often very conservative. Search abided by a 40% quota for women’s participation in the social media for social change events, held activities in easy to access central locations and adapted the content to suit the needs of women from different ages, religions, and ethnicities in each location.
Core Objectives and Activities
The project achieved both its core objectives: 1) Increase awareness and capacity among target youth around the harmful effects of hate speech on social media and how to produce positive online content that advances peace and reconciliation; and 2) Increase engagement of social media influencers to challenge negative perceptions towards minority religions and ethnicities.
For objective one, Search developed a marketing campaign that created excitement among social media savvy youth to engage in phase 2 activities, organized mobilization events through gaming and social media to build team spirit and excitement to engage in peacebuilding work, held 5 two days social media boot camps, offered coaching and mentoring, and hosted an innovation fund challenge that selected the 20 best project ideas to be further financially and technically supported. For the second objective, Search challenged participants to a three month long social media campaign and eventually selected the 10 best products. Search also brought in 3-4 experts to discuss social media monitoring for ethically and religiously motivated hate speech, and hosted a national learning and reflection workshop.
- Search trained 379 youth participants (232 males, 147 females) through 20 social media literacy boot camps in five provinces, Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western.
- The final evaluation found that before the project, 43% of youth reported that they ignored hate speech. After the project, 50% of youth reported it, 21% commented on it, and 8% created social media campaigns to counter hate speech.
- 60% of participants reported engaging in dialogue with someone of another ethnicity or religion during the project.
- The total reach of the social media creations produced by the youth were recorded as 3,496,429 people, a remarkable achievement of these 34 youth groups/individuals despite numerous limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic
“If you notice the way these young people handle Facebook now, [through] their posts and writings it, is evident that they are champions…they really promote coexistence and reconciliation. I would say this is a great achievement.” – District Coordinator
This project was recognized at the 2021 Common Ground Awards, winning the award for best media-category peacebuilding initiative. This reflects the project’s success in reaching a wide audience throughout Sri Lanka and building a group of digital peacebuilding champions who now have the capacity to continue countering hate speech and promoting peaceful social media interaction in the future.