The full report can be accessed here. Read on for the Executive Summary.
In recent years, there has been an unprecedented boom in online hate speech and extremism. Grave though it is, this global issue has not gone unchallenged. Rather, it has given rise to an international archipelago of organisations, civil society groups, and individuals that proactively engage in counter-speech – i.e., “a common, crowd-sourced response [that] argues, disagrees, or presents an opposing view to extremism or hateful content” – and other more direct measures, which can broadly be termed counter extremism (CE). Adopting a comparative case study approach, this report evaluates counter-speech and CE in three European countries – the United Kingdom, Germany, and France.
Counter-extremism and counter-speech have come under a significant amount of scrutiny from journalists and academics alike recently, but there remains a significant gap in the research regarding practical matters. From an organisational perspective, many questions remain unanswered: How do activists conceive of and develop their programmes? From what sources do they derive funding? How are campaigns shaped and calibrated to meet the needs of particular audiences? This review attempts to offer answers to some of these questions.
Based on this study, we have derived five key recommendations for counter-speech organisations in their nascent and developmental stages:
- M&E Matters: Monitoring and evaluation metrics are crucial commodities in counter-extremism work. Within reason, it would serve counter-speech initiatives to systematise M&E and make
their efforts visible to the public.
- Be Creative: Activists should use their imagination when thinking about developing counter-speech campaigns. Unusual and clever campaigns invite audience participation and have a greater tendency to go viral – while these are not strictly necessary to all counter-speech efforts, they almost always bolster campaign potential and reach.
- Think Obliquely: Activists must always try to think outside of the box. Too often, counter-speech activism limits itself to providing direct responses to claims made in extremist propaganda. While important in their own right, campaigns that are strictly reactive are only effective to an extent. Counter-speech initiatives should think about how they can engage in both reactive and proactive measures.
- Calibrate Carefully: Good counter-speech is targeted counter-speech. While it may be tempting to cast the net as widely as possible with a given campaign, doing so is rarely a good idea. Instead, activists and organisations alike should make an effort to calibrate their activities as carefully as possible.
- Don’t Overcomplicate: No counter-speech campaign has the ability to singlehandedly solve the manifold challenges presented by extremism. Through simple structuring and realistic targeting, counter-speech activists and organisations can work together in unison, offering the holistic response required to meaningfully and systematically challenge extremism across the spectrum.