It all started at the beginning of the school year in September. A group of ten student coming from different backgrounds and study fields was selected to represent Erasmus University for a social initiative promoted by Facebook. What they created is a social media campaign to raise awareness for a local issue that they chose themselves. That’s how MoRoc was born, an initiative that aims to tackle the problem of hate speech towards Moroccans in Rotterdam. We sat with Bartek, one of the leaders behind the project, to understand the details and highlights behind setting up a social campaign on university grounds.
“So, Bartek, tell us more about the topic you and your team selected. Why focusing on Moroccans in Rotterdam and the hate speech towards them?”
Being a team composed almost only of international students, we wanted to focus on an issue that affected international people like us in the city. We also wanted to work on a topic that could actually make a difference for our community. Focuing on hate speech allowed us to talk about something that’s applicable pretty much to any community, and we selected Moroccans after analyzing statistics about their experiences in the city. While Moroccans represent one of the largest minority groups in the city ( 7% Ed.) four of out ten of them do not feel at home here because of the various forms of discriminations they face.
“How did the campaign organization look after selecting the topic?”
The next step that we needed to take was to think about how to tackle the issue of hate speech towards Moroccan immigration in the Netherlands. We decided to follow the format of the Facebook page “Humans of New York” which shares stories and experiences of locals living in the city, and we applied the same strategy: we made connections with Rotterdam Moroccans and had them talk about their experiences. We published a picture and a story every week on each individual local we got to talk to. The reasoning behind this was that while it is easy to make negative generalizations about a minority when talking in general, the game changes once people are shown a picture of an actual person they are making judgements about. We also had to select a name for the campaign and a logo for our social media presence eventually.
“How were those created?”
We thought that the campaign would work best if we center around an element that bring us together, and we found that element in the city of Rotterdam. The city unites us, and we all ride the same bikes around it, so we decided to use the bike as the logo and symbol of the unity that the initiative stands for. The name we chose, MoRoc, recalls then both the name of our city and the nationality of the minority we aimed to support.
“How did you manage to promote your initiative among students?”
We came up with both online and offline strategies. One of the biggest parts of the campaign was the promotion of the initiative through various events. We often saw online statements such as “Moroccans are here to steal jobs” and we wondered whether these perceptions could change after engaging people in real life. We created the phrase “ Moroccans live here and…” and wrote it on posters for random interviewees to complete. Most of the responses were actually heart warming, and some of the participants made us laugh. “Moroccans ae going to the soccer world cup and the Dutch are not!” was probably the funniest one. With another event on campus we asked people to take a polaroid picture and caption it with an hashtag created for the campaign. We tried not only to expose the issue but also to make people actually engage with it, and to a large extent we got people to participate.
“Were there negative responses?”
Yes. The one that struck us the most was the one of a woman who said she only had negative experiences when thinking about Moroccans, and we tried to share our view with her to see if her opinion could shift. She did eventually wrote “Moroccans live here and they deserve a second chance” as her sentence, so we were pretty impressed with her openness.
“What surprised you most when doing this initiative?”
What made me proud and happy was seeing people who followed us and the campaign on social media starting advocating for the issue through online comments. That’s something I would have never thought of. They stood up for the cause by engaging with negative comments, by explaining our views politely and by sharing our hashtag #weridethesamebike.
“What was the most challenging part when it came to tackle such a delicate issue?”
Walking up to people to talk to them was definitely intimidating at first but that was also our biggest reward. Whether with positive or negative attitudes, having people responding to your questions and showing interest to our cause was what made us proud. Dealing with the rudeness of some was challenging at times, however.
For more information on MoRoc’s and their initiatives you can follow their Facebook page.