In association with Facebook since the year 2015, Centre for Social Research (CSR) launched ‘#SocialSurfing’. It is an initiative that has on board eight CSR team members, who go to colleges across India to talk about online safety, abuse, trolling, the art of counter speech, and using social media for social change. #SocialSurfing 3.0 rolled out this year has covered 159 colleges and approximately 8,000 students so far. The total target of #SocialSurfing 3.0 is 300 colleges and at least 15,000 more students. #SocialSurfing (2015) and #SocialSurfing 2.0 (2016) covered 105 colleges in over 21 states, 42 cities and reached out to more than 10,000 students.
The structure of the #SocialSurfing workshop is designed to fit within one hour. With the help of videos, music, games and activities; the trainers educate the youth in optimizing Facebook’s use by ensuring protection of privacy, healthy interaction in the online space and using social media to speak on social issues that seek reformation. In order to do so, counter speech as a concept is introduced and the students are encouraged to engage with hate speech or trolling by witty repartee and productive dialogue.
The Unique Selling Points of #SocialSurfing are the young trainers who are not only dressed informally but they also talk to college students like peers and friends. The workshop is replete with energy and ensures audience participation that keeps everyone awake and alert. Many college students are active Facebook users and those who are not, mostly have an aspiration to be on it. Hence, the interest level for the topic is found to be very high. Over the years, #SocialSurfing trainers have found themselves extending support to the students after the completion of the workshop. The students often approach the trainers to confess their problems and fears about fake account creation, online harassment, being locked out of one’s account and data security. In anticipation to student queries, the master trainer Amitabh Kumar coaches the team to handle various situations well before the workshop season begins. Mr. Kumar has 9 years of experience as a gender trainer and he along with Dr. Ranjana Kumari (Director, CSR) represent the organization on the Safety Advisory Board of Facebook. As an ideology, the trainers are taught to treat every query with respect by listening in sensitively and attentively. The trainers do not judge the student who approaches them. Every query is resolved by redirecting the student back to the Facebook safety tools that they can use or by giving them information about local resources like the cyber security cell in their jurisdiction. A lot of student anxiety stems from their immediate social environment which does not encourage healthy dialogue between the sexes and curtails freedom of expression. In a rare occurrence, when a complicated case of online sexual harassment is reported to the #SocialSurfing team, the trainers give a realistic timeline to the student and give him / her their contact details so that the student can be informed about the updates on case resolution. Many students contact the #SocialSurfing team through the official Facebook page or drop in a text on +91-8826-888302.
There are many students who haven’t had a negative experience online that warrants involvement of an authority. Those students have been generous with their warm feedback to the team after the workshop. “Today we had an extremely wonderful workshop from the #SocialSurfing group. People were relatable. We have had so many lectures, so many seminars; so many older people talk to us about how we have to be safe on social media but coming from people that we can relate to from our own generation… it was like wonderful! Not only that, they kept it fun. They kept it entertaining and we had to move around. There was a lot of activity. We did not have to sit in a place. It did not remind us of a classroom. So I think that was the best part about it. Not only that, there were completely helpful. They have a different approach. That is what I will emphasis the word ‘Millennial’ here. They have a millennial approach. I am very thankful that my college encouraged this. I am very thankful to the guys who came all the way from Delhi.”- Vijaya Gauri from Madras School of Social Work, 27th July 2017
As the #SocialSurfing team gathers mileage on its target completion for the third phase; it is also creating a strong online community by means of a Facebook page where people can approach us for their problem resolution.