Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraqi Activists Reach Millions

Project aims to raise awareness on critical issues such as coexistence and anti-extremism.
By IWPR Iraq

Dozens of Iraqi journalists and NGO workers trained by IWPR have managed to reach an astonishing audience of nearly 18 million people through their social media activism.

According to an IWPR Iraq analytics report, the 42 participants had also created more than 5,100 pieces of social media content and attracted about 70 per cent page “likes” growth.

IWPR Iraq shortlisted the group of trainees from among 120 people who were took part in IWPR’s Baladna Tariqna  - Our Country, Our Path - workshops on how to produce credible online content so as to raise awareness on critical issues such as coexistence and anti-extremism.

The two IWPR courses, held in December and January in Erbil and Baghdad respectively, also covered the basics of cyber security.

Those selected then joined an online competition that ran through January and February 2016 to find who could have most impact through social media platforms.

At the end of each month, trainees who scored best on content as well as data metrics received small cash grants.

IWPR programme director Nabil Khoury said that the symbolic amounts of money given to the awardees were a helpful tool to motivate them in their anti-radicalism campaign.

“The most important thing I learned in this period was about social media strategy,” said Mustafa al-Soufi, a young Iraqi activist who received the top score in both months of the competition. “In the past I had no idea about the techniques I use now to deliver my message to as wide an audience as possible, even though I was writing about the same topics.”

Soufi, who recently graduated as a vet, works each day in a veterinary clinic in Salahuddin province. But outside office hours he is a well-known Facebook activist, focusing on issues such as tolerance, human rights and combatting ISIS.

“I am planning to use the prize money to create a YouTube channel and produce animations that promote the same topics I usually write about,” he said.

“First and foremost, the Baladna Tariqna project thought us how important social media is, and how to attract more people to my ideas,” said Hassan Omar, another prizewinner. He works at a telecommunication company in Erbil and runs a Facebook page called Kurdistan in Arabic, which aims to promote the principles of coexistence between Arabs and Kurds.

Omar said he had his own plans for the prize money.

“I want to buy a professional camera for documenting social events that principally promote peace and coexistence, and publish them on my page,” he explained.

Another awardee, Farah Abdulhussain from Baghdad, wants to use her prize winnings to run a reading club.

“Attending the course and going through the competition gave me the skills I needed to distinguish facts from assertions and fabrications on social media,” she said. “You cannot imagine how harmful spreading rumours can be in a country like Iraq.”