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Youth Counterspeech Lab in partnership with Facebook and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue

The Anna Lindh Foundation (ALF) partnered with Facebook and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in the design and implementation of Youth Innovation Labs in the Mediterranean region. The lab was piloted on the occasion of the MED FORUM of the Anna Lindh Foundation in Valletta, Malta, on 23 October 206. Labs focus on the development of youth-led online creative counter-narrative campaigns for preventing and countering violent extremism.

An evaluation carried out after the Lab in Malta shows that 94% of participants indicated that the lab had empowered them to realise how they could address hate speech and extremist narratives in their own communities using existing and limited resources and knowledge: “The lab provided me with a clear comprehensive definition of extremism and taught me how to build a systematic campaign that covers everything beginning from the content then how to define and target my audience and how to measure the success in order to develop other campaigns in the future”

During the MED FORUM held in Malta, the Lab was designed to enhance digital literacy and media skills of Youth Sector delegates to the MED FORUM, focusing on how to enhance online reach, and work in groups to create new, compelling campaigns to reach at-risk audiences in their own communities and beyond. Four creative campaign ideas were presented at the end of the activity.

The model has been designed to provide a space for innovation, co-creation and learning while giving participants the contacts, tools and resources needed to develop counter-narrative campaigns for preventing and countering violent extremism. Labs are developed in recognition of the power that young people’s voices can have in tackling these issues. These labs bring young people together to connect and engage effectively through regional and sub-regional workshops. Participants are trained in skills which can then be translated to both online and offline engagement. These labs therefore act as the first step towards building an internet-savvy civil society with the knowledge and capacity to effectively challenge extremism.


The structure of a Lab session is based on localized messages and examples. It is important to acknowledge that for example the use of terms such as ‘Preventing Violent Extremism’, ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ are well understood in some regions while on others they are not. Thus the terms are discussed in the opening session and the language is adopted to the region and composition of the participants.

Composition on mixed backgrounds ensure a wide range of experiences and thus allow for a honed message for a specific audience. This also helps the process developing the initiatives after the lab. Cross-sector collaboration is an essential component of the Innovation Lab model, helping guide the output of a lab towards effective development of counter-narrative campaigns and initiatives. Labs present an opportunity to connect the credible voices of youth activists with experts including: videographers, artists, comedians, civil society organisations, advertising firms, social media platforms and even government representatives.

The schedule of a lab moves from imparting knowledge into a co-creation model. In the first stages of the labs, brief presentations frame the intent of the event and give a range of tips for effective production of counter-narratives. As the labs progress the activities lead groups to develop their own autonomy, solidify their ideas, and create unique counter-narratives and initiatives.

The labs enforce a structure that encourages critical thinking by going beyond a hierarchical teaching methods. The model is more learning and doing which encourages critical thinking to develop into reflex for participants. Also crucial is the role of moderators as they lead dialogues from one point to next, allowing ideas to evolve into actionable projects.

Youth Innovation Labs contain highly interactive and practical exercises that increase participants’ knowledge and ability to challenge hate speech. These labs move away from the traditional event structure and utilise ‘hands on’ group exercises and breakout sessions as opposed to lectures or panel discussions. Short presentations are given throughout the lab to contextualise the event and move activities from one moment to the next, building ideas that can lead to the development of actual campaigns or initiatives. There is increasingly less interjection from facilitators and more peer-to-peer group development work.

Labs cover all the major elements of building PVE and CVE initiatives and enable participants to build a comprehensive tool kit for how to plan, create, target and promote a counter-narrative campaign. As different topics are addressed participants learn by doing, immediately applying each lesson as it is discussed. The lab is carefully structured so that each section builds on those that came before it. In order to create impact-oriented initiatives, participants build a campaign using a specific audience as a starting point. Groups first decide the form of hate speech or extremism they would like to address and determine the target audience that they want their message or engagement to reach. Only after establishing an audience do they develop their content, tailored specifically to this group.

The session focuses in different issues by sections and a structures process. First part is focused on framing the problems (Hate speech and extremist messaging) Here, regional extremist propaganda is shared to demonstrate the scope and scale of violent extremism online. As the lab is catering to younger individuals, no overtly violent or graphic content is shown. Instead, videos and images showcase how extremist messaging aims to establish an ‘us versus them’ worldview. Understanding the nature of the problem allows participants to fully understand what they are challenging. However, the problem is only briefly touched upon over the course of the event, as the lab is designed to be solution orientated.

Counter-narratives are presented as a proactive solutions for prevention, which can be used in both offline and online activism. It is vital that labs are led and shaped by the participant’s own experiences and expertise. The role participants can play in these proactive solutions, as well as the limitations to their activism is highlighted. This discussion includes security practices and protocol that participants can observe to reduce their exposure to hazards. Participants are also taught about how to incorporate safety and security within their activism through security practices and protocol that participants can observe to reduce their exposure to hazards.

In addition to discussing what counter-narratives are and how they can be utilised, participants are shown how to amplify their efforts by targeting and promoting their message to reach the right audience. Discussions focus on crafting impact-oriented campaigns which are designed to reach and engage specific key audiences, rather than ‘going viral’. While working in their groups, participants are taken through exercises that demonstrate how to define their own target audience and establish the parameters for crafting a targeted message to reach them. Groups are encouraged to think critically about the messages and images that resonate with their audience. The target audience and messages that each group designs provides the framework for the counter-narrative campaigns they produce later in the lab.

Having considered both the target audience and target message, groups are tasked with how to reach their intended audience and promote their campaigns. Participants are given the opportunity to connect, and learn from, leading social media representatives in creating an advertising campaign. Following this, groups are allocated time to use social media tools, inputting the data produced in the previous exercises to translate their offline targets to the online sphere. Development of the campaigns is paired with measurement and evaluation guidelines. This session includes an exploration of the uses of online analytics, as well as methods for offline measurement and evaluation.

At this stage, participants have produced a target audience, a target message and explored the way in which these messages can be promoted. The labs conclude with a ‘creative session’ in which groups work together and apply everything they have learned to create their own campaign. Here each group is equipped with, and able to utilise, their creative members and tech experts to bring the ideas discussed throughout the lab into reality.