Counter-narratives for change

January 2, 2022

Counter-narratives for change

In the recent past, the achievements of two young Sri Lankans became the focus of much public attention.  Viyaskanth Vijayakanth became the first cricketer from the Jaffna District to make his debut in the Lanka Premier League T20 Cricket Tournament and sixteen-year-old Shukra Munawwar, a student from Galle, emerged the winner of the Sirasa Lakshapathi reality television show. The remarkable element was that the conversation around these achievements also featured prominently on Sri Lankan online spaces, highlighting the two individuals from minority groups in the country, prompting ‘positive’ conversations around social cohesion. *

The proliferation of online hate speech is sadly a common phenomenon. But in fleeting moments like the above, there are instances when positive narratives related to social cohesion also happen online.  Hashtag Generation, a movement led and run by a group of young tech-savvy, socially conscious Sri Lankans advocating for the meaningful civic and political participation of youth, especially young women and young people from minority groups, have been engaged in tracking trends in online positive speech in Sri Lanka over the past few years. 

The analysis carried out by Hashtag looks at pages that promote different types of positive content – for example, content that promotes unity, multiculturalism and counternarratives against hate speech, advocacy for women’s rights, and counters COVID-19 disinformation. Based on their findings, Hashtag Generation produces reports which analyse the performance of content shared by Facebook pages that have a history of publishing positive content. This analysis then helps peacebuilders understand the types of positive content that have more traction and how they can refine their strategies to fight dangerous speech in the country.

The past and present have taught us painful lessons of indifference, inaction, or inadequate action. ‘Never again’ – in some cases, remains an aspirational goal. The United Nations recognizes the undeniable and consequential role hate speech plays in promoting violence, from violent extremism to atrocity crimes. The widespread use of social media has given hate speech a larger audience online and has led to dehumanizing the other. We consider this a form of cultural violence, which has pushed many ordinary people to glorify and commit violent actions against others.

Hashtag Generation, through its extensive work, has also produced a digital toolkit to guide civil society on effectively producing counterspeech. The toolkit provides a comprehensive guide on creating counterspeech and publishing, for example; discussing how best to plan content, tips on crafting content and choosing the most suitable publishing platform to get effective results. The toolkit also gives a list of further resources that can be accessed online which will be valuable for those trying to fight online hate speech. 

As part of this initative, Hashtag Generation also recently conducted an online workshop for civil society organisations in Sri Lanka to introduce the toolkit and to sensitize the audience on key strategies and best practices identified on the toolkit.

These activities carried out by Hashtag Generation are a part of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s regional project on ‘Preventing Violent Extremism through respect for tolerance and diversity’ with the funding support from the European Union. Since 2018, UNDP has developed projects that aim at reducing the vulnerability of countries in Asia to violent extremism, tackling the drivers of radicalization, and increasing the resilience of local communities and societies as a whole. UNDP is addressing hate speech, as well as misinformation and disinformation across 72 countries in five regions. We have come a long way, but there is still room for improvement.

It is evident now more than ever, that there is a need to protect and support anyone being subjected to hate speech, empower the voices of those victims and amplify the voice of peacebuilders.

* Countering Hate 1st November 2020 to 31st January 2021 (Hashtag, 2020) 


The toolkit can be downloaded from


Hashtag Generation is a movement led and run by a group of young tech-savvy, socially conscious Sri Lankans advocating for the meaningful civic and political participation of youth, especially young women and young people from minority groups.