Countering the persuasive power of extremism

Political extremists and terrorists are using the internet as an instrument for recruitment and propaganda, targeting vulnerable youth in fragile contexts. Extremist organisations have capitalised on traditional, social and online media to spread their campaigns and win hearts and minds. As the world struggles to cope with the persuasive powers of extremists, RNW Media’s RNTC is the first training institute to offer media and communications professionals a methodology to counter radical ideologies.

RNTC’s unique anti-radicalisation training sets out proven strategies to respond to the distortions of radical propaganda. The skills learnt in this course are applicable to all media, on any platform, and in any region. Recently a number of alumni of the TechCamp programme, funded in partnership with the US Department of State, were awarded scholarships to attend the three- week course “Producing Media to Counter Radicalisation” at RNTC’s headquarters in the Netherlands.

Inesa Gupe is an Albanian journalist and blogger and was one of the TechCamp alumni who attended the training and, she says, “it perfectly met my expectations and I learned things I didn’t know before’

Gupe works for an NGO focusing on the right to information in Albania which operates an online platform called Exit The platform aims to inform people on the social and political issues Albania is facing. Exit first attracted broad attention with a series of articles examining the current reform of the country’s justice system.

“These reforms are a very important step but no-one was explaining what it really means to change the constitution and re-draw the justice system. Even the MPs didn’t understand what they were going to be voting for because the public discussions were all in technical legal language. No-one knew what it meant in real life. So we took the technical language and explained it using simple words everybody could understand.“

Gupe has spent quite some time now writing articles which, she says, are basically explanatory – strict, cold facts delivered directly without emotion. But she came to realise that facts aren’t always enough to tell the whole story.

”There’s this thing going on in Albania the last 2 or 3 years with ISIS. Young men and boys from a specific region are joining ISIS a lot. And this is something where you need emotion – you cannot only explain this with facts. You have to try and understand their background, what they are thinking, what they are feeling, and why they decide to do this.”

The tools extremists use to win hearts and minds can also be used to counter these ideologies. The RNTC training emphasises the power of persuasive story-telling for bringing about change – knowing what motivates your target audience and how to address them effectively. One of the problems in Albania, Gupe says, is that the media practitioners too often turn to stereotypes:

“They say these boys just join ISIS because they get money – maybe this is one factor but it’s not the full story. You have to dig deeper – what makes these boys see ISIS as a saviour or as an opportunity. Why would you sacrifice yourself and your life to join them, it’s much bigger and deeper than money.”

Equipped with the story theory taught by RNTC, Gupe is now working on a campaign to counter the Isis message in the Albanian region of Porrejanos. And, she says,

“I’m very grateful for this learning because I know I can apply it to every topic, not just radicalisation. We also learned how to evaluate our work so I will be able to monitor myself – the session on evaluation was mind-blowing – You think you have a perfect campaign but the trainer challenged us to move from being too general to very specific.”