In Sri Lanka, Youth Social Media Group Combats Hate Speech and Misinformation

The USAID-funded Social Cohesion and Reconciliation Activity (SCORE) provided training to 28 youth leaders from diverse ethnic backgrounds in the Monaragala District to counter the spread of fake news and hate speech online that became rampant following the Easter Sunday bombings, the group learned how to educate people on deciphering legitimate from fake news, in part by becoming savvy about news sources and photos, and what to do when they see coverage they know is disingenuous and intended to incite violence. In addition to receiving social media training, participants learned to play an advocacy role in their communities to raise awareness about important community issues through the positive use of digital and social media. 

The participants verified social media posts with responsible government departments to curtail the spread of misinformation and worked with local authorities to identify possible ethnic tensions resulting from misinformation on social media.

Months later, this activity continues with a national focus. Because social media is one of the most influential factors for youth, this SCORE-trained social media group is working on disseminating positive social media content which promotes social cohesion and reconciliation. At a recent meeting in Monaragala, youth in their late teens and early 20s came together to discuss their advocacy work. While their technological skills are advanced and they are socially aware, they lack professional training on social media ethics to bring about tangible changes on social media platforms. Through SCORE, they have the chance to hone their skills while building community cohesion through social media.

Members of the group share their messages on social media platforms and encourage each other to develop and share positive content. They also encourage other youth to question the content they are seeing to ensure they are differentiating between fiction and fact. They are all from rural villages in the Monaragala area, so their equipment and expertise levels vary, but regardless, they socialize with and learn from youth of other ethnic backgrounds.

The group has already produced four videos that cover current social issues affecting youth in their communities and have built strong friendships that help support vulnerable communities. The group, which includes some disabled members, is also committed to identifying disabled youth who are isolated to help integrate them into society and create awareness through social media on the challenges they face. Rural areas in Sri Lanka have limited infrastructure for people with disabilities, and unemployment among youth is high in Monaragala. “We have a responsibility to spread this knowledge among other youth,” said one participant at a recent meeting. “We have learned we can do many things by working together. Each of us has specific talents and skills and this gave us a chance to identify them. Right now, two of us have started a business with what we learned from SCORE. The vision is to do social networking, make money and invest in social welfare.”

The Monaragala youth leaders have gone on to expand their network to similar youth groups trained by SCORE in Jaffna, Ampara and Batticaloa districts. Their Facebook group can be seen here:
www.facebook.com/YouthForSCORE

Region: Asia, Sri Lanka
Area of expertise: Peacebuilding, Youth