BEIRUT: Amid a year that has seen fighting between the Lebanese Army and Islamic State (IS) militants along the northern border, and the increase of US military aid, including three new Huey helicopters, the U.S. seeks to also assist Lebanon in fighting extremism online.
"Daesh, Al-Nusra and other violent extremist groups pose a threat to Lebanon on both a tactical and an ideological level. The brave members of Lebanon's Army and security forces regularly confront Daesh along the northern border, and go after them wherever they threaten Lebanon's stability," interim ambassador and chargé d'affaires Richard Jones told participants Thursday at the kickoff of a U.S. Embassy-sponsored symposium.
"#HackingExtremism: A Participatory Symposium on Countering Violent Extremism Online" is a three-day event that brings together leaders from the Lebanese government, civil society, the private sector, and academia to assess the threats posed by violent extremism online in Lebanon.
The event aims to "develop coordinated, community-driven approaches to promoting an alternate and inclusive vision of hope for a better future," according to the embassy.
"Unfortunately, Daesh is using the Internet – a tool that should be and usually is used to promote the free flow of information as a tool to infect the hearts and minds of our children," said Jones. "At every level of society – grassroots, local government and national government – we all have a role, in social media and elsewhere, in defeating Daesh's malicious propaganda and revealing violent extremist messaging and narratives for what they really are."
The event, organized in collaboration with Social Media Exchange (SMEX), features sessions on social media, messaging, IS propaganda tactics, and the importance of protecting human rights and civil liberties online when developing countermeasures.
Social Media Exchange (SMEX) is a Lebanese nonprofit that conducts training, research, and advocacy on strategic communications and human rights relevant to an increasingly online world.
"We came together here because we know we can't fight extremism alone" said Jessica Dheere, cofounder of SMEX, in a Twitter posting about the event.
In collaboration with SMEX and the Lebanese American University (LAU), the embassy is also sponsoring the "Lifting Up Youth Voices: A Chat about Technology, Countering Violent Extremism and Free Speech" forum.
The forum will provide an opportunity for young people to join the discussion about countering violent extremism online and in their communities and to suggest potential responses.
"The urgent challenge of violent extremism demands that we all embrace a proactive, positive approach that involves contributions from a wide range of stakeholders," Jones said. "Most importantly, it involves an approach driven by those who are on the front lines in the fight against violent extremism in their communities."
He added, however, that the U.S. government "does not presume to have all the answers" to defeating IS and other extremist groups online, but rather noted that solutions vary by country and that, "Each solution will require local knowledge, expertise, and understanding of the core values of the society affected."
According to the embassy, the symposium's ultimate goal is to empower individuals and institutions to learn from each other, form alliances, build awareness, and develop interventions for the communities and countries affected.
The embassy said the event "is a symbol of Lebanon and the United States' shared commitment to countering violent extremist organizations like Daesh and its counterparts."
"We hope the #HackingExtremism Symposium will bring new resources and provide opportunities to network that will be useful in countering the perverse message of Daesh and their counterparts, and in forming new and innovative solutions to the challenges posed by violent extremists, especially online," said Jones.
The event kicked off at the Movenpick Hotel and continues Friday at the Lebanese American University.
Follow hashtag #HackingExtremism on Twitter for more updates on the Symposium.
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