Twitter recently joined young people in Vienna to talk about alternative narratives & changing attitudes

By Ronan Costello

How do we become more open, more sympathetic, more optimistic? “You just keep nudging people in the right direction.” The teacher who said that wasn’t just talking about steering people away from radicalisation, but rather about how all harmful social attitudes can be changed with persistence, nudge by nudge. The Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) wanted young activists, mentors and policymakers to explore this question last week in Vienna at its event, Involving Young People. Twitter was there to talk about how effective online campaigns can be vehicles for such social change.

Attendees gathered for two days to discuss the work of young people in the field of countering extremism. There were open conversations about community work, cross-border cooperation between projects and sharing ideas and materials for use in online campaigns that could be rolled out across Europe and beyond. These conversations were facilitated by representatives from the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace and the Association Francaise des Victimes du Terrorisme, among others.

As a group, we talked about what it means to create alternative narratives. The conclusions might best be summarised as follows: if someone is at a vulnerable point in their life, susceptible to dogmatic views espoused by charismatic actors, the offer of an alternative narrative is simply the offer of another path. This path is hopeful for their future, takes an optimistic view of life and reminds them of all they can’t afford to leave behind; family, friends, a community. And it does this best when it references the experiences of other, similar people.

Twitter, by virtue of its public and distributed nature, is an ideal platform for the showcasing and sharing of powerful alternative narratives. As we spoke to attendees, we highlighted examples like #IllRideWithYou, an organic response to the fear some Muslims had of wearing religious clothing on public transport after the Sydney hostage crisis in 2014; and #NotInMyName, when British Muslims decried the acts of Daesh to illustrate how the extremists had strayed from a peaceful, mainstream Muslim community.

We also spoke about #StopIslam, a trend borne of prejudice after the attacks on Brussels, but which was quickly met with overwhelming criticism by Twitter users who cited the hashtag and rejected the intolerant content of the minority. These examples offered an uplifting view of humanity at times when it was most needed, proving that the Twitter community is capable of great empathy and solidarity, much like the world it reflects.

At their heart, all these efforts are about offering a different perspective; making us more open, more sympathetic and more optimistic. And how do they do that? They just keep nudging people in the right direction.

Nudge by nudge.