Recent­ly, I was a part of a con­fer­ence held by Face­book and Insta­gram in Wash­ing­ton, DC. The con­fer­ence endeav­ored to bring togeth­er mem­bers of faith-based NGOs to iden­ti­fy solu­tions to address bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing by one’s reli­gion.

Over­all, it was a pro­duc­tive, ener­giz­ing few hours togeth­er, and I was left feel­ing very inspired about all that can and should be done in the near future. For now, I want­ed to share some of the back­ground work that led up to the con­fer­ence, as well as the sig­nif­i­cant take­aways.  The hope is that our efforts (now and in the near-term) can make real head­way in pre­vent­ing and respond­ing to hate and bias­es that occur not only on social media but in our schools, com­mu­ni­ties, and work­places.

dalia-facebook-interfaith-communities-event

To begin, I want to
bring your atten­tion to the work done by the Insti­tute for Social Pol­i­cy and
Under­stand­ing (ISPU) (and lead­ing researcher Dr. Nadia Ansary) and part­ners
such as the Amer­i­can Mus­lim Health Pro­fes­sion­als, Sikh Kid 2 Kid, and the
Islam­ic Net­works Group (ING). They orga­nized a 2‑day Inter­faith Bul­ly­ing Sum­mit
in Decem­ber 2017 and brought togeth­er 80 pro­fes­sion­als to dis­cuss what can be done about reli­gious-based bul­ly­ing. I
believe that this Sum­mit was ini­ti­at­ed in part because ISPU’s research team
found in a nation­al­ly-rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies that 42% of
Mus­lims, 23% of Jews, and 6% of Catholics report­ed that at least one of their
chil­dren had been bul­lied in the past
year because of their reli­gion (Moga­hed
& Chouhoud, 2017
).

ISPU’s 32-page report is avail­able here, and I
strong­ly encour­age you to read it. My hope with this recent Face­book and Insta­gram
con­fer­ence was to build upon ISPU’s sol­id foun­da­tion. That is, I want­ed us to devel­op a con­crete game plan
that can be imple­ment­ed to bet­ter serve
and pro­tect those who reg­u­lar­ly deal with hate and harass­ment because of their
faith.

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My spe­cif­ic role was two-fold. First, I was to pro­vide back­ground sta­tis­tics based on our orig­i­nal research about school bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing and explain the over­lap between offline and online bul­ly­ing. Sec­ond, I was to share an assort­ment of ideas demon­strat­ing promise in pro­mot­ing inclu­siv­i­ty, kind­ness, tol­er­ance, and peer respect. Spe­cif­ic to the lat­ter, I sug­gest­ed numer­ous activ­i­ties in which youth in major­i­ty cul­tures, eth­nic­i­ties, and faiths can devel­op a more pro­found inter­est in, and sin­cere appre­ci­a­tion for, minor­i­ty cul­tures, eth­nic­i­ties, and faiths. Dr. Lewis Bern­stein, for­mer exec­u­tive pro­duc­er of Sesame Street, also weighed in based on his exten­sive expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge.

Final­ly, the group brain­stormed pos­si­ble next steps in a
“hack,” and I believe they col­lec­tive­ly can move our efforts for­ward.

  • It was men­tioned that many kids who are tar­get­ed because of their faith (or eth­nic­i­ty) take it very hard because it is tied to their iden­ti­ty (much like gen­der, race, sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, and oth­er defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics). It is one thing to report offen­sive con­tent and get it tak­en down – which helps. How­ev­er, often through the process of rumi­na­tion, the tar­get­ed child con­tin­ues to strug­gle and suf­fer as they replay those hurt­ful words in their mind and ques­tion their iden­ti­ty and self-worth. Some­thing must be done to fol­low up with these kids to see how they are doing – whether by con­sid­er­ate peers, edu­ca­tors from school or per­haps even by friends or fol­low­ers online. Per­haps those online friends and fol­low­ers can be algo­rith­mi­cal­ly “remind­ed” (via auto­mat­ed mes­sages) to check in with their tar­get­ed friend or fol­low­er in the days and weeks after a hate­ful inci­dent or attack. That can go a long way towards heal­ing and restora­tion as the tar­get­ed friend or fol­low­er knows they are not alone, and some­one cares enough to see how they are doing. The tar­get­ed friend or fol­low­er needs to know that peo­ple do care about them on a reg­u­lar basis and not only when their being tar­get­ed.
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  • Face­book and Insta­gram
    have robust por­tals that pro­vide down­load­able mate­ri­als and videos that intend
    to pro­mote men­tal health, well-being, tol­er­ance, and com­pas­sion. The hope is
    that edu­ca­tors will use these tools to dia­logue with stu­dents about pos­i­tive
    atti­tudes and behav­iors on social media. How­ev­er, it was men­tioned that edu­ca­tors still strug­gle with imple­ment­ing them,
    and seem­ing­ly need more assis­tance to do it in
    the class­room. How can we make it eas­i­er for them? Can we cre­ate a
    pro­gram to which they can sign up dur­ing a week of their choos­ing, at a
    spe­cif­ic time each day and the sys­tem will auto­mat­i­cal­ly pipe in Les­son 1 or 2
    or 3 onto the teacher’s (or stu­dents’) con­nect­ed device? Can we orga­nize an
    “offi­cial” week each Fall or Spring where schools across the nation run this
    pro­gram? Can we incen­tivize par­tic­i­pa­tion by teach­ers, class­es and schools with
    some sym­bol­ic or sub­stan­tive reward? The tools for social-emo­tion­al learn­ing and even cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy are out
    there; we need to make it eas­i­er for youth-serv­ing pro­fes­sion­als to deploy and
    uti­lize them.
  • Relat­ed to this, it
    was sug­gest­ed that atten­dees at this con­fer­ence rep­re­sent­ing the sig­nif­i­cant faiths might use the video stu­dios
    at Face­book to cre­ate webi­na­rs to be broad­cast­ed (and archived) via Face­book
    Live. This will help to reach and equip teach­ers (and, con­se­quent­ly, stu­dents)
    with the knowl­edge they need to know to cul­ti­vate a deep­er respect for all reli­gions.
  • We won­dered if Face­book and Insta­gram might pro­duce more pow­er­ful pub­lic
    ser­vice announce­ments relat­ed to com­bat­ing reli­gious-based bul­ly­ing and
    shown in user feeds. These would be 30-sec­ond clips that are not just
    infor­ma­tive and inspir­ing but also edu­ca­tion­al, and they would reach a much
    larg­er audi­ence than any in-per­son pieces of
    train­ing we might do.
  • We want kids to know
    it’s okay to “bring their whole self” to the table (in terms of their iden­ti­ty
    in all its full­ness) when shar­ing and inter­act­ing on social media. Recent­ly we
    are see­ing the era­sure of some groups that are marked by inter­sect­ing
    iden­ti­ties (e.g., a stu­dent who is Asian and bisex­u­al and fer­vent­ly Catholic
    might only be viewed and treat­ed and known as bisex­u­al). Every aspect of a
    per­son means some­thing and shouldn’t be triv­i­al­ized or over­looked. We want all
    youth (and adults!) to come as they are and believe they will be respect­ed as a whole per­son and not just com­part­men­tal­ized into cat­e­gories
    such as “Jew­ish” or “trans” or “gay” or “His­pan­ic.” Also, we want them to view oth­ers as the whole selves they rep­re­sent and respect them in the same way.
trevor-project-facebook-interfaith-communities-event
  • We talked about how
    dis­cus­sions of faith can be polar­iz­ing, much like dis­cus­sions of pol­i­tics. We
    need to make sure that state­ments about one’s reli­gion or beliefs or prac­tices
    are not used as a blud­geon­ing device to hurt oth­ers. Machine learn­ing cur­rent­ly
    has a hard time detect­ing such abuse because of con­tex­tu­al
    com­pli­ca­tions. How can we encour­age, pro­mote, and even some­how induce mature,
    bal­anced, healthy dis­cus­sions when­ev­er top­ics of reli­gion arise? No reli­gion or
    polit­i­cal par­ty wants kids to expe­ri­ence bul­ly­ing. Can that be our start­ing
    point, and can we advance togeth­er on that com­mon ground?
  • Can we estab­lish a
    men­tor­ing pro­gram in schools and com­mu­ni­ties, where well-versed indi­vid­u­als can
    vis­it youth and help increase their reli­gious and cul­tur­al lit­er­a­cy quo­tient?
    Can the atten­dees of this con­fer­ence pro­vide such ser­vices? Can Face­book and
    Insta­gram pro­vide sup­port in some way?
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  • Final­ly, one attendee stat­ed
    that we set the bar too low if we are aim­ing for our stu­dents to have cul­tur­al com­pe­ten­cy. Instead, we should strive for cul­tur­al
    pro­fi­cien­cy
    . Cul­tur­al pro­fi­cien­cy is
    espe­cial­ly impor­tant giv­en that our world is increas­ing­ly get­ting small­er
    (because we are all inter­con­nect­ed and so immi­nent­ly reach­able), and that we
    are mov­ing deep­er into an infor­ma­tion-based soci­ety and econ­o­my. I love this! I
    want my kids to be cul­tur­al­ly pro­fi­cient. I want them to learn glob­al cit­i­zen­ship.
    I want them to have a grand appre­ci­a­tion for every oth­er faith, eth­nic­i­ty and
    nation on our plan­et. I can’t under­em­pha­size the impor­tance of this mat­ter as
    it will con­tin­ue to increase.

While research and eval­u­a­tion are need­ed to deter­mine which efforts will be fruit­ful, I believe
these ideas lay the ground­work for a new round of strate­gies and pro­grams that can
make a dif­fer­ence. So it is up to all of
us to do what we can. If you care deeply about reli­gious-based bul­ly­ing and
cyber­bul­ly­ing pre­ven­tion, do reach out to me, and I can con­nect you with
like-mind­ed oth­ers. Hope­ful­ly, the youth under your care will grow up in an
envi­ron­ment where they don’t have to bear a heavy weight of harass­ment and hate
on their shoul­ders because our col­lec­tive efforts have served to lessen that
load.

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Attend­ing Orga­ni­za­tions:

Ref­er­ences:

Moga­hed, D. & Chouhoud, Y. (2017). Amer­i­can Mus­lim Poll 2017: Mus­lims at the Cross­roads (Dear­born, MI: Insti­tute for Social Pol­i­cy and Under­stand­ing, 2017), retrieved from https://www.ispu.org/american-muslim-poll-2017/

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