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Internship Spotlight

Peer-2-peer: Challenging Extremism

The Peer-2-Peer: Challenging Extremism is an initiative by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for students to work in teams through their universities to counter the narrative of violent extremism. The Peer-2-Peer program uses social media campaigns and technology to create positive action within the community. In the age of technology and social media it is easier to share opinions, including those of hate. These campaigns countering the extremist narratives work to prevent radicalization and instead create a dialogue that will spread on social media and inspire action from the community. 

The students spend a semester creating a unique campaign from start to finish. This begins with research and ideas, which leads to a platform and campaign that you implement to get others involved. The program is also a competition, after submitting their final deliverables, the campaigns are judged against other universities and the top three finalists are invited to travel to Washington, D.C.

Below is an in depth look at two of the Peer-2-Peer teams from the University of Massachusetts Lowell who were selected as finalists and traveled to Washington D.C. to present in front of executives and experts in the Department of Homeland Security.

Operation250
Peer-2-Peer: Countering Extremism – Fall 2016, 3rd Place

The name Operation250 comes from an NPR article citing over 250 Americans who have joined ISIS. The goal of Operation250 is to educate young adolescents, their parents, and educators to prevent another 250 from joining. Operation250 has created information for the three audiences, for students to read and test their knowledge; for parents, to give resources about warning signs and information to keep their child safe online; and educators, providing lesson plans and activities that can be incorporated into classrooms. After being chosen as a finalist in the Peer-2-Peer project, five members traveled to Washington D.C. to present to a panel of judges from The Department of Homeland Security and executives from Facebook. They placed third in the country and were rated the number one educational program in the competition.

Operation250 continues to expand the content on their website, and are currently meeting and working with a number of school districts to get their content into schools in Massachusetts. In the spring of 2017, Operation250 participated in UMass Lowell’s DifferenceMaker $50K Idea Challenge, a competition where students pitch solutions for issues happening in the world. After being chosen as one of the top 10 teams, Operation250 presented in front of a panel of judges, and won the top honors at the campus wide DifferenceMaker event. Over the past month Operation250 has presented to over 4,000 people and is working with Harvard and the Massachusetts Districts Attorney’s Office to test the effectiveness of their countering violent extremism product.

“Doing the Peer-2-Peer program has had a massive impact on me. Op250 and CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] are now a major part of my future and I have to credit CTSS for giving me that opportunity.”
- Tyler, Political Science and Criminal Justice, Class of 2017 

ProjectPACE
Peer-2-Peer: Countering Extremism – Spring 2017, 2nd Place

ProjectPACE provides a website platform to give a Personal Approach to Counter-Extremism Education (PACE). The website aims to provide young individuals with information about violent extremism to counter misinformation that can be found on the internet. After gathering responses to the question, “What is one question about violent extremism that you would be uncomfortable asking in public?” the website was created to answer the individual’s questions. The website allows for individuals to create accounts and take a quiz in order to be given personalized educational content at that users’ knowledge level. ProjectPACE was a finalist in the Peer-2-Peer project and placed second in the country. 

Following the competition they are working to update their website, create new content to expand the information provided, and are using social media, schools, and organizations to promote their website and spread ProjectPACE as they work to counter misinformation. This includes a plan to hold an event for administrators and teachers to spread the word about ProjectPACE. To date they have reached over 450,000 individuals in 20 countries and are working to visit more schools to spread their message.

We wanted to combat misinformation because we thought combating that would thus combat violent extremism because people who are less informed are more susceptible to incorrect information being spread by these radical groups.
- Matthew, Criminal Justice and Psychology, Class of 2018

I chose to join the P2P Project because I though it would give me more of an understanding of the depth of counterterrorism research and even further information on terrorism itself.
- Colleen, Criminal Justice, Class of 2019