Amplifying voices of respect and tolerance across Northern Ireland

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Every day, Twitter is used to promote social change, challenge viewpoints and discuss the most pressing issues facing communities across the globe.

As a public platform, our users’ power to challenge prejudice and division is a very real phenomenon, as recognised in a study from academics Orna Young and Paul Reilly, commissioned by the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council. They found that “social media provided a ‘safe space’ or distance for individuals and groups to express their views on what may be viewed as emotive issues.” The authors describe the importance of creating opportunities to hear alternative viewpoints and positions that may not be available ‘offline’.

This is why we work directly with NGOs across the UK, training hundreds of community groups and activists on how to make the most of Twitter as platform for amplification. These groups are committed to challenging prejudice and discrimination, building stronger communities and calling out those that seek to create division.

Last week in Belfast we took this philosophy one step further.

Working alongside our partners in the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building (@CDPB_NI) and the Washington Ireland Program (@WIPLive), we asked what campaigns need to be created, what ideas have not been discussed and what more can be done to ensure that the loudest voices belong to those who want a peaceful and tolerant future in Northern Ireland.

Bringing together a range of community activists, creative thinkers and established civil society organisations, we asked people to come up with campaign ideas that tackled the issues they thought most pressing for their community.

To kick off, we asked participants to pitch ideas to the room and then join a campaign group to develop the idea further in the afternoon session. Thereafter we whittled down 12 pitches to 6 campaigns, covering issues as diverse as body confidence to bringing the probation service closer to the community.

Each group has been given a week to work together to hone their idea, and next week we’ll post a blog with their campaign and details of how people can get involved.

Over the course of the coming months, all the ideas will be taken forward and amplified with the support of @TwitterUK and @CDPB_NI.

Our time in Belfast once again demonstrated to us how Twitter can be a platform through which we learn more about the world, giving us a unique opportunity to hear different voices to those that might be hogging the mic. It presents a powerful opportunity for those who believe in challenging prejudice, championing change and offering hope where it may feel all too distant.

As this event highlighted, there is no shortage of pressing issues, nor ideas about how to address them. The challenge is bringing those ideas to life and to build them into positive forces for change.

Nick did a live in-studio interview on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster to promote the initiative. You can listen back to the segment here from 1:45 onwards.