AL­TER­ING THE ON­LINE NAR­RA­TIVE

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Nikka G. Valen­zuela

Pic­ture this: Your cousin shares on so­cial me­dia a pro­pa­ganda graphic (again) that says the qual­ity of life in the Philip­pines back in 1972 was way bet­ter than it is to­day. Some­thing within you is trig­gered, your fin­gers click­ety clack against your key­board as you type a counter re­sponse on the com­ment sec­tion. It’s com­ment con­tes­ta­tion again, and you won­der why your cousin never both­ered to learn the facts de­spite the nu­mer­ous in­for­ma­tive links you send him.

Sooner or later you give up and you hit the un­fol­low but­ton. You think your cousin is a hope­less cause. You’ve done your job in fight­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion.

But, YouTu­ber Nadir Nahdi asked, “Is it enough to just counter nar­ra­tives? What’s the next step?”

He was ad­dress­ing a room com­posed of YouTu­bers, so­cial ac­tivists, a for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fice for United States Home­land Se­cu­rity, a Marawi refugee and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the United Na­tions Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme (UNDP) from the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Counter nar­ra­tive, hate speech and mis­in­for­ma­tion are not just con­cerns be­tween con­tent cre­ators and so­cial me­dia users, but all types of ne­ti­zens as well.

This is just among the hard ques­tions dis­cussed at YouTube Cre­ators for Change Re­gional Sum­mit in swel­ter­ing Bangkok last Oc­to­ber. Cre­ators for Change pro­gram was cre­ated to spread pos­i­tive im­pact and mean­ing­ful di­alogue on stream­ing web­site YouTube. A hand­ful of YouTu­bers—con­tent cre­ators who have dis­tinct voices and know how to reach view­ers— were tapped to un­dergo the pro­gram.

The fel­lows tack­led in their videos lov­ing your­self, gen­der in­equal­ity, hate speech, racism and the like. YouTube pro­vided men­tor­ship and pro­mo­tional sup­port. Singer Janina Vela, who has over 640,000 sub­scribers, was cho­sen to rep­re­sent the Philip­pines.

YouTube es­ti­mates the web­site reaches 90 per­cent of in­ter­net users who seek a va­ri­ety of things, from prank videos, makeup tu­to­ri­als, un­box­ing videos, toy re­views, travel vlogs and ed­u­ca­tional videos.

“(It) is an open plat­form that lets any­one find their voice, and that is very sa­cred. But at the same time, we see a lot of peo­ple us­ing that open­ness to spread in­tol­er­ance, spread mis­in­for­ma­tion,” said Jake Luc­chi, who works for Google’s pub­lic pol­icy work on con­tent is­sues.

So, how can a YouTu­ber or a con­tent cre­ator fight in­tol­er­ance and main­tain a safe space on the chan­nel? “Is it enough to de­bunk pre­vail­ing stereo­types and not pro­vide a new frame in which to un­der­stand,” Nadir asked.

The Lon­don School of Eco­nomics alum­nus posited this: “Al­ter nar­ra­tive. Right now what’s hap­pen­ing is that there’s a nar­ra­tive and I pro­vide a counter nar­ra­tive and we’re stuck in this in­fi­nite loop. But an al­ter nar­ra­tive pro­vides a new un­der­stand­ing of peo­ple who have been mis­rep­re­sented. But how do you make an al­ter nar­ra­tive? It’s about sto­ry­telling.”

Nadir said that YouTu­bers are new age sto­ry­tellers, and he en­cour­aged the cre­ators to up­load videos with uni­ver­sal sto­ries that re­late on a hu­man level, videos that fo­cus on sim­i­lar­i­ties and not dif­fer­ences. His chan­nel, BENI, tells sto­ries of cul­tur­ally di­verse in­di­vid­u­als in breath­tak­ing cin­e­matog­ra­phy.

He ad­mit­ted that he is still fig­ur­ing out the al­ter nar­ra­tive method. In his video for the Cre­ators for Change pro­gram, UK-based Arab-In­done­sian Nadir went to his grand­mother’s birth­place in In­done­sia in search of be­long­ing­ness.

The re­sult is “#find­ingnenek: The Girl in The Batik Dress,” a 25-minute video about his

jour­ney to In­done­sia to find out why his grand­mother left the ar­chi­pel­ago and why she was so re­luc­tant to talk about her his­tory. There was big im­pact on Nadir’s fam­ily, but what sur­prised him was the pos­i­tive re­sponse to the video viewed over 69,000 times. Users left com­ments like “beau­ti­ful,” “goose­bumps,” “Mashal­lah!”

“My dad is a jour­nal­ist and the great­est thing (he) taught me: The great­est story you’ll ever tell is your own,” Nadir said.

For­mer US Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Priyank Mathur, mean­while, has a dif­fer­ent ap­proach when it comes to top­ics re­lated to coun­ter­ing ex­trem­ism.

It may seem oxy­moronic —ter­ror and com­edy, much like fake news, but the com­edy writer from The Onion had a valid point. For one, stud­ies showed com­edy is the most shared con­tent on so­cial me­dia.

“You cre­ators prob­a­bly no­tice a lot of times we talk about dif­fi­cult top­ics like gen­der and in­equal­ity, if you do that in a dra­matic way, peo­ple don’t take it as likely as they should,” he said. “I found that com­edy can be a bit dis­arm­ing for re­ally con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects, (es­pe­cially) if you do it the right way with­out of­fend­ing peo­ple.”

Priyank’s strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions firm Mythos Labs part­nered with East In­dia Com­edy to cre­ate “I Want to Quit Isis,” a hi­lar­i­ous video about a guy who wants to quit the Is­lamic State (IS) group but finds out it’s not as easy as fil­ing a res­ig­na­tion let­ter.

Priyank said com­edy is a strik­ing way to counter IS re­cruit­ment videos that go as far as us­ing “Amer­i­can Sniper” clips and pho­to­shop­ping a face of an IS mem­ber over Bradley Cooper’s face. In 2013, de­spite the poor in­ter­net con­nec­tion in Marawi City, rad­i­cal­ized groups were able to reach the youth through a se­ries of videos on so­cial me­dia. (See side­bar.)

But Priyank warned con­tent cre­ators that there are no-nos when it comes to com­edy, some­thing that pranksters in an­kle-length white garb throw­ing bags to pedes­tri­ans need to pon­der on:

“Re­li­gion is a hot topic so we didn’t want any­body to think that this is an anti-Mus­lim thing be­cause it was about ex­trem­ism. There was a con­scious de­ci­sion to make the of­fice place look like a white col­lar of­fice where peo­ple wear khakis and shirts be­cause if we try to make it look like (it’s set in the) Mid­dle East, that would sug­gest that we’re tar­get­ing a cer­tain eth­nic­ity and I think (the video) would be open to at­tack.”

Priyank added: “(For) any­one who wants to use com­edy on ex­trem­ism, there’s a re­ally fine line. We’re not try­ing to make fun of a ter­ror­ist, we’re try­ing to talk about the ab­sur­dity of ter­ror­ism. There’s a dif­fer­ence if you just make fun of some­body.”

Min­istry of Funny duo Haresh Ti­lani and Ter­ence Chia tack­led xeno­pho­bia in Sin­ga­pore through a travel/com­edy video rolled into four min­utes of clips. “The One Thing You Need to Know About Sin­ga­pore” is funny, but it also leaves a big im­pres­sion on read­ers about the de­vel­oped coun­try’s back­ward ide­ol­ogy.

“Ev­ery video about Sin­ga­pore is lit­er­ally about things that it does well… but there are so­cial is­sues and it’s so easy to just gloss over them (if you’re a tourist). We wanted to high­light it, but peo­ple might click off be­cause if they want to see a video and they wanna laugh they come to us. We grab them with some­thing that’s easy to watch and then the twist comes in the end. Even if it makes them laugh it kind of ques­tions them of how they think,” Haresh said.

Ter­ence added that it was im­por­tant not to mor­al­ize view­ers, but rather make them re­flect on their own ex­pe­ri­ences. Com­edy, he said, make peo­ple more vul­ner­a­ble to learn­ing.

De­spite the neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion that comes with the word “in­flu­encers,” Nadir un­der­scored that con­tent cre­ators have a role, as new age sto­ry­tellers, to pro­vide “voice to the voice­less” and a safe space to those who seek it.

“You’re on the cusp of deep and so­cial cul­tural change. You didn’t re­al­ize that you’re in­flu­encers within your own ecosys­tems. You’re chang­ing the way your view­ers en­gage with con­tent. Now your view­ers are ex­pect­ing to learn more… ex­pect­ing to be questi­s­toned. And that’s re­ally pro­found,” Nadir said.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY MAXIMILLANVILLANOS

—PHOTO FROMNADIR’S YOUTUBE CHAN­NEL

UK-based Arab-In­done­sian YouTu­ber Nadir Nahdi (left) traces his roots by trav­el­ing to his grand­mother’s birth­place in In­done­sia

Haresh Ti­lani: “Ev­ery video about Sin­ga­pore is lit­er­ally about things that it does well… but there are so­cial is­sues and it’s so easy to just gloss over them (if you’re a tourist).”

—PHOTO FROMMINISTRYOF FUNNY’S YOUTUBE CHAN­NEL

Min­istry of Funny talks about the so­cial is­sues in Sin­ga­pore.

—PHOTO FROM JANINA’S YOUTUBE CHAN­NEL

Janina Vela’s video tack­les lov­ing your­self

Priyank Mathur

Jake Luc­chi

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