Is MyHack reaching its intended audience?

Article written in September 2016, originally published here.

A group sponsored by the federal government says it’s important to continue engaging youth against extremism after just six students participated in one of its 3-day “hackathons”.

MyHack, an organization aimed at “mobilising youth for counter violent extremism innovation,” is sponsored by the Australian government and owned by PAVE: People Against Violent Extremism.

Since its creation in 2015, MyHack has run several ‘hackathons,’ which are 3-day seminars that occasionally continue through the night, in and around Australia.

Adbullahi Alim, MyHack director and founder, says the organization was created in order to “assess issues and solutions in terms of what was out there”  on the topic of countering violent extremism.

Event Organizers Abdullahi Alim and Leesa Charlotte at the MyHack event Photo: Amber Schultz

Event Organizers Abdullahi Alim and Leesa Charlotte at the MyHack event
Photo: Amber Schultz

This week’s event follows threats publicized by the Islamic State in the IS-run magazine Rumiyah, which urged members to carry out “lone wolf” violent attacks on civilians in Australia.

The magazine singled out Melbourne locations including the MCG, Brunswick and Broadmeadows.

Despite the seminar’s topic being a current issue only six participants attended, all of them students from Monash University.

The seminar began on Friday the 9th and continued until Sunday the 11th, and was run by Leesa Charlotte, Entrepreneurship Ambassador for the Arts Faculty at Monash University, and Alim (who prefers to be known by his last name).

Hosted at the Henley Club, the event was open to anyone but focused its attention on Monash University students.

The seminar’s process consists of 3 stages beginning with a “loop,” where teams discuss ideas, conduct research and formulate problems.

That’s followed by a “hack” or the creation of a solution which is then tested and refined.

Finally, the seminar concludes with a “crack,”where  a pitch of the idea by each team to an audience and judges.

Winners are given the opportunity and support to develop their prototype into a functional model.

Targeting youth to combat extremism

“Violent extremism disproportionately appeals to young people,” says Alim, citing extremists use of media and tech to reach their audience.

He believes it “makes sense to get the in-group to come up with solutions”.

According to Alim, the seminars have been “quite successful” in the past.

He attributes the success to a generation of youth who are committed to combatting social justice issues, including discrimination and disengagement.

“Young people have authentic voices when it comes to advocacy,” he continues.

But participant Ben Teh highlighted the difficulty in creating a current prototype to combat violent extremism associated with the Islamic State.

“Finding these radicals is a problem,” he said, citing his group’s non-religious and cultural background as an issue.

“How are we supposed to target demographics we don’t know all that much about?”

Implications of the innovations

Last year’s Melbourne MyHack winning idea was the “Former Network,” an online platform which connects reformed members of extremist groups with survivors of attacks, together with teachers working in “at-risk” areas.

The idea behind it was to share narratives and insights from extremist organizations.

The platform is currently still being researched, and has yet to be translated into practise.

When asked about the real-world implications of these ideas, and the feasibility of developing them, Alim said that he believes in many of the winning ideas.

He said there was a lot of potential to develop many of them into reality.

Regardless of the final outcome, he said, the organization’s events create a “national hub” in which youths can congregate and “work together on common issues”.

Melbourne’s 2016 winners

This year’s Melbourne MyHack winning idea was a series of videos hosted on YouTube, coupled with a package which could be presented to schools to educate students.

The videos will highlight the role that a bystander can play when witnessing discriminatory and negative comments both online and in real life.

They offer ways in which a bystander can aid and support the victim.

Praba Sekhar, a member of the event’s winning team, said she hoped that their innovation, once put into use, would encourage bystanders to take positive action when witnessing discrimination.

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