In the autumn semester, as part of an annual competition run by the US State Department, a group of Swansea University students recently undertook the challenge to tackle extremism.
Being able to focus on any type of extremism we saw fit, we chose to focus on the far-right. We did this because there is a growing presence of right-wing extremism, both globally and locally in South Wales. By creating an easy-access platform with information, support, and resources, we hoped to encourage people to educate themselves while becoming further involved in countering right-wing extremism in the local communities. Drawing on the students’ knowledge, spanning from media through criminology and law, we aimed to tackle the far-right in South Wales by developing methods to encourage the “silent majority” to report hate crime.
We hoped to encourage, engage, and educate by asking our audience #howfar?
- How far is too far?
- How far would you let it go?
- How far until you break the silence?
With these questions, we aimed to prompt our audience into thinking about reporting far-right extremism and hate crimes, as increasing the number of people reporting these crimes is what the campaign ultimately aimed to achieve.
The rationale behind our project was based partly on a survey that we put together at the beginning of the campaign. This survey was conducted to gauge Swansea University students’ current awareness regarding far-right extremism and hate crime in the community, and on their own experiences with these. We chose to focus our attention on university students in South Wales, as this was both a group we assessed to have significant access to and also the group most receptive. Furthermore, we were also conscious of the importance of reaching and engaging the leaders of tomorrow.
The results of the survey showed that:
- 21 percent of students had witnessed hate crime in South Wales, with 6.5 percent of students having been a victim of hate crime.
- 17 percent of students have witnessed far-right extremism in South Wales
- 84 percent of those who have been a witness or victim to hate crime of far-right extremism did not report it
- Only 5 percent indicated knowledge of where to report hate-crimes and far-right extremism.
The results of the survey suggested a severe lack of awareness surrounding far-right extremism, hate crime, and how to report. The results also indicated that students were unlikely to report hate crime.
The unlikeliness of reporting hate crime is a tendency that could be explained by the “Bystander Effect”. The Bystander effect is when an individual fails to intervene in an emergency situation when others are present because they think that ‘others’ will do so, also known as diffusion of responsibility (Darley & Latane, 1968). For example, one may fail to report a hate crime because they think that someone else who has witnessed it will or that they are not qualified or prepared to challenge the situation directly. This can result in incidents of far-right extremism and hate crime going unreported. By researching this effect, we concluded that most studies suggest it can be negated by an increase in awareness, and by removing the idea that there is such a thing as a silent bystander in a hate crime (Van Bommel et al., 2012; van den Bos et al., 2009). We, therefore, decided to attempt to challenge this effect by empowering our target audience to recognise hate crimes and provide them with the social support and knowledge on how and when to challenge hate crime when safe to do so.
We hoped to elicit a feeling of self-awareness in our audience, with the aim to increase the reporting of hate crime. The flagship of our campaign was a video with which we hoped to reach exactly this – to make the audience aware of the prevalence of right-wing extremism and hate crimes, but also to show the common situations that can lead to further extremism.
The video features a protagonist who encounters different levels of extremism, we attempted to engage the viewer by asking #howfar they would stay silent and remind them of the acronym SAFE: Silence Always Favours Extremism. Several sensitive issues had to be taken into account during the production phase. For one, we wanted to avoid promoting any right-wing sentiments accidentally and second; we were very conscious of not encouraging people to engage in any form of vigilantism. Instead, we wanted to encourage people to educate themselves by directing their attention to the content on our web page.
To further promote our project and engage people, we also approached students at the University to further examine their views on extremism. We asked them relevant questions and wrote their answers down on a whiteboard with our slogan #HowFar. This was subsequently posted on our platforms. Furthermore, we had the idea to create a product that we could give to students to help them to fight the bystander effect. After positive feedback in a focus group, we created key rings below and distributed 500 key rings to Swansea University students on campus.
At the end of our campaign, our video had been viewed 26,000 times on Facebook over the course of sixteen days thereby fulfilling its role as a type of gateway for the audience to the rest of our project. We also obtained a 2.6 percent engagement rate on Twitter. Both of these results could be considered successes.
Although the competition is over, we hope our message #howfar continues to spread. If you would like to know more about far-right extremism, hate crime and our campaign please visit our website https://howfar.wales/ where you will find educational information in our blog and details on how to report far-right extremism and hate crime on our Report It! page.
Blog written by Anna Eva Heilmann and Mads Nyborg Anneberg (Swansea University MA students and members of How Far)
Darley, J. M., & Latane, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: Diffusion of responsibility. Journal of personality and social psychology, 8(4), 377-383.
van Bommel, M., van Prooijen, J. W., Elffers, H., & Van Lange, P. A. (2012). Be aware to care: Public self-awareness leads to a reversal of the bystander effect. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(4), 926-930.
Van Den Bos, K., Müller, P. A., & Van Bussel, A. A. (2009). Helping to overcome intervention inertia in bystander’s dilemmas: Behavioral disinhibition can improve the greater good. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45(4), 873-878.