State Department Paid College Students $12,000 To Make Hashtags

Thomas Phippen | Reporter

Students are fighting terrorism with hashtags, and many are receiving cash awards from the Department of State for their work.

The Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) took home $5,000 prize for their social media campaign “It’s Time: #ExOut Violent Extremism.” Two other schools won a $3,000 reward, and one school received a $1,000 prize as part of State’s program to counter Islamic State propaganda online, according to FedScoop. A total of 47 schools participated in the program this spring, each receiving a $2,000 grant and $400 in Facebook ad credits to implement their plan.

The prizes, announced Monday, are part of the State Department’s Peer-to-Peer: Challenging Extremism initiative, described as an “innovative partnership between the U.S. government and universities around the world, empowers students to design and pilot new digital products and tools that strengthen communities and societies against violent extremist ideologies that recognize no borders.”

“ISIL uses fear to motivate, to further their cause and further their agenda,” Olivia Hauck, member of the winning RIT team told FedScoop. “We wanted to take an opposite approach and motivate people through compassion and motivate people through understanding.”

An April 27 tweet to the campaign’s 70 Twitter followers reads “There’s a significant difference between the ideals of ISIS and the ideals of Islam! .”

Assistant Secretary of State Evan Ryan, one of the judges for the contest, loved the campaign. “We thought they really captured the attention of their target audience of young people with their ExOut campaign and would reach the demographic that we are interested in,” Ryan said, according to RIT’s blog. “Who better to reach these young people on social networking sites than university students as we search for new ways to counter online terrorism.”

The RIT team estimates that they’re campaign has already reached 350,000 people, and with the State Department’s prize, they expect to reach even more.

“Social media is continuing to play a larger and larger role in our lives. By working with Rochester’s Muslim community, these students have shown how it can be harnessed to help combat extremism and fight terrorism around the world,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), told the university.

The RIT team also included a website and other social media channels in their campaign, including a Facebook which has more than 800 followers, Instagram, and Youtube.

RIT was the only American university considered as finalists for the State Department’s international initiative.

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