Leverage power of social media to counter violent extremism

Mar 02, 2023

"It is widely acknowledged that in recent years, the use of the Internet by extremists as a means of spreading propaganda, raising funds, recruiting members and communicating with activists has grown dramatically,"

Turkish ambassador to Djibouti Cenk Uraz

Steven Denis Matege
Multimedia Producer @New Vision

Social media has become an integral part of modern society and has had a profound impact on how people communicate, interact and consume information.

However, it has been criticised for its negative effects on society including the potential of facilitating violent extremism and terrorism.

It is for this reason that media practitioners in East and the horn of Africa countries have been urged to leverage social media in countering violent extremism and gender biases.

"It is widely acknowledged that in recent years, the use of the Internet by extremists as a means of spreading propaganda, raising funds, recruiting members and communicating with activists has grown dramatically," Djibouti director of multilaterales relations Ambassador Guelleh says.

Alex Njiri

Alex Njiri

He adds that extremist groups also use the Internet as a virtual boot camp and that there are many examples of how supporters of violent extremism, like al-Shabaab, develop media and communication strategist to promote violent extremism. These organisations are particularly adept in their use of social media.

He made the call at Sheraton Djibouti Hotel in Djibouti city during a three-day regional training of media practitioners on the adoption of gender-sensitive reporting to counter violent extremism, which started on Monday, February 28, 2023.  

The training, which is organised by the IGAD Centre of Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (ICEPCVE) and funded by the government of Sweden, has brought together media practitioners from nine countries: Uganda, Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.

During the training, several officials said media practitioners are not doing enough to counter wrong information including violent extremism and exploiting the Internet the way terrorist groups are doing.

Some of the participants in the workshop

Some of the participants in the workshop

ICEPVE head of strategic communication Martha Njiri said media practitioners need to use social media for the benefit of countering violent extremism.

"We need to be strategic in how we use social media platforms. If the al-Shabaab are using these platforms effectively, what are we missing?" she told the media practitioners on Tuesday.

Kenya-based media practitioner Alex Njiri said the al-Shabaab used social media (Twitter) to broadcast its attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi. During the attack of 2013, al-Shabaab used Twitter to claim responsibility for and live tweet throughout the attack. This was aimed at controlling the narrative and retaining audiences.

Shared responsibility

Ambassador Guelleh said the fight against violent extremism is a shared responsibility, which is incumbent on society as a whole with the media playing a role of prime importance of developing the collective consciousness of people and societies.



Turkish ambassador to Djibouti Cenk Uraz said: "The media can play a role in raising public awareness against radical groups' propaganda tools and the spread of extreme ideas. On the other hand, the media could also lead to certain prejudices in public opinion".

He added that efforts to counter and prevent violent extremism should first understand the roles women and men play in violent extremist groups and 'how gender norms and socially-constructed concepts of masculinity and femininity are manipulated by these groups to advance their recruitment efforts".

Martha Njiri

Martha Njiri

According to the World Health Organisation, gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviour and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other.

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