Hate speech can have a devastating effect on mental wellbeing and self-confidence. The UN office in Lebanon is helping young people to rise above these attacks, and reject negativity from others.
21-year-old Dima El-Awar stands in front of the camera with confidence and ease. In addition to being a good speaker, a skill that every journalist attempts to master, Dima is keen on promoting positive speech and accurate information. Coming from Falougha, a small village in Mount Lebanon, Ms. El-Awar was hesitant to pursue her dream career in journalism because she thought she was not good enough for the job.
“As a young girl, I always received hateful comments about my personality and clothing style. Some people told me I was too loud; others said that I did not match the beauty standards of TV personalities and public figures because I did not dress up like other girls. I used to feel bitter for receiving such comments in the past, but today I smile and respond with positivity ,in an attempt to change other people’s attitudes,” Ms. El-Awar says.
Before reconciling with these negative comments, she studied Chinese translation instead of journalism. With time, she recognized that she should not have given up on her dream because of other people’s opinions, so she transferred to studying journalism. “I didn’t want to regret not pursuing my passion when I’m old, so I decided to get over other people’s opinions and to listen to my inner voice,” Ms. El-Awar says with a smile.
Countering misinformation through positive speech
In a training session to help youth combat hate speech and misinformation under the “Youth Countering Hate Speech and Misinformation” project, organized by UN Lebanon, through the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Ms. El-Awar listened to other people’s experiences with hate speech and realized that everyone is susceptible to hate.
During the session, Ms. El-Awar learned about the various forms of hate speech, its impact on people, and ways to became more resilient and skillful in dealing with it. “When I understood that hate speech expresses the other person’s problems rather than mine, I started accepting myself. I also started accepting others for who they are and seeing the beauty in everyone,” she says.
The training helped her realize that she had taken the right decision by transferring to journalism because “journalism can counter hate speech and misinformation through positive speech and accuracy”. It also helped raising her awareness on the importance of combating hate speech and putting an end to “bullying, destructive criticism, and marginalization of anyone based on their identity.”
The powerful voice of youth
UN Lebanon trained 15 youth from different regions and universities in Lebanon on media and information literacy, access to information, combatting hate speech, and countering misinformation. Under this project, the young participants produced 12 social media episodes about hate speech and misinformation after they were trained on the technical strategies for producing social media segments.
Ms. El-Awar has always been keen on positively impacting her community and this has been manifested in her volunteering with the Lebanese Red Cross in Falougha as a paramedic and emergency medical services volunteer for the past seven years. “Volunteering allows me to be close to people. Through volunteering, I can show solidarity to people of all ages, gender, and socioeconomic classes,” she says with pride.
As a believer in the importance of giving back to the community, Ms. El-Awar is eager to counter hate speech from her role as a young person and a future journalist. “Young people can play a major role in countering hate speech because they are the future generation. They also have the power to change perspectives, are resilient, and accept diversity,” she says. After she overcame the influence of hate speech, Ms. El-Awar is today more confident to stand in front of the camera, and to highlight the beauty of Lebanon.