COM Students Launch Campaign to Fight Violent Extremism

Students in professor Steven Corman’s Countering Violent Extremism class have launched a social media campaign to counteract the proliferation of cyber-terrorism.

The campaign is part of the Peer 2 Peer: Challenging Extremism program, an initiative of the U.S. Department of State and Edventure Partners, to develop social media and digital campaigns that would contest the ongoing presence of jihadi in social media. Students earn academic credit in the class with the focus on designing and developing social media and digital campaigns and then actually implementing and activating them over the semester. The program aims to empower university students from 23 schools in the United States, Canada, North Africa, Middle East, Europe, Australia and Asia to develop digital content that counters violent extremist messaging through a semester course for academic credit. A final competition of three teams of finalists will present their project’s creative briefs to a roster of judges on June 4 in Washington, D.C.

Senior Aaron Masengale, the team’s director of communications, stated that “Islamophobia is a more pressing issue for students” because the propaganda of extremist groups is often targeted directly at impressionable youth.

ASU was chosen to participate in the program because of previous work with Edventure Partners and because a specific request was made by the National Counterterrorism Center and its leadership to reach out to ASU because of the strength and reputation of the program Dr. Corman manages.

Project manager for the team, Alyssa Sims, said the team found that in the case of foreign fighters, American Muslims or American Muslim converts who go oversees to join extremist groups, many feel a sense of isolation and a lack of connection to their Muslim community.

The team came up with the idea for a website, Yoummah.org, that would allow Muslim community members to better connect and tell their own story about ways people are connecting and contributing positively to society.

Yoummah is a combination of the English word “you” and the Arabic word “ummah,” which means “community.” According to the team, the significance of combining the two is the emphasis it puts on the individual’s role in his or her community.

The website officially launched April 9 and is open to everyone. Users can register free to post events and photos, raise funds for events, or even post specific team roles, such as treasurer or project manager. Members can view upcoming events and, provide supplies or contribute to the fundraising. The site is also accessible through Facebook, Twitter and Google+ and hopes to eventually be developed it into a global app.

The student projects will be judged on predetermined metrics, which, for the ASU team, include how many people actually use Yoummah.org and how often the site is mentioned on other sites.

Professor Corman praised the team's progress stating, “The students in the class have done an excellent job of taking a difficult problem and a challenging timeline, and creating a product that their target audience seems excited about.”

ASUnews article April 10, 2015

Channel 15 news article