Countering Hate- A Conversation with Bob Pearson and Haroon Ullah

Countering Hate

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend a dinner and subsequent presentation on Countering Hate, a new book out coauthored by Dr. Haroon Ullah and Bob Pearson. The dinner was good (and free), but the talk following dinner and their presentation to the larger audience was incredible.

Dr. Ullah is Chief Strategy Officer for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and a former senior advisor to three Secretaries of State. He’s also ambiguously aged (Is he 35? 45? 50?), but that’s neither here nor there. He traveled with famed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s Afghanistan/Pakistan team and started the first-ever public diplomacy countering violent extremism office at the American Embassy in Pakistan. If you’ve read Ronan Farrow’s War on Peace (which you should if you haven’t), he’s on that team.

Mr. Pearson, a man with a genuinely great beard, is the Vice Chair and Chief of Innovation for W2O Group, “A healthcare-focused marketing communications firm driven by marketing science to give brands an unfair advantage,” according to their website. They also have deep connections to Newhouse. Mr. Pearson is an adjunct professor at Newhouse, so if you’re a Newhouse student, give W2O a look. Mr. Pearson also developed the Fortune 500’s first global social media function at Dell and served as Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Switzerland. Needless to say, they’re two wicked smart cookies.

In short, their newest book, Countering Hate, is about how extremism is born in individuals and society at large, why it seems to be on the rise, and how we can use technology and diplomacy to counter this violent trend. The book states that its goal is to “trigger new ideas on how leaders can partner worldwide to make our world a safer and more productive places over the long-term.” The book itself is from the perspective of not only Ullah and Pearson, but nineteen other world-class influencers in tech, politics, NGO’s and more. Hell, they even got the keyboardist from the Rolling Stones somehow.

During their presentation, the two went through a litany of topics including how hate is formed, how can/should we track hateful rhetoric online, and what methods may be employed to find greater common ground amongst citizens so that we never reach hate in the first place. They spoke to the psychology of hate in that most of our conceptions of the world are formed in our first 25 years of life, and that if exposed to hate consistently, it becomes our truth, regardless of objective fact. As more and more children are exposed to social media and the wilderness that is the internet at earlier ages via the proliferation of smart phones, it is incumbent upon our government and our society to manage the wilderness and the torrent of hateful, often false, media that occupies the space.

Kids on cellphones. The author is disgusted.

Authors note: It all seems particularly poignant and relevant in the face of the Thousand Oaks shooting, the 307th mass shooting of the year.

A point the two were sure to emphasize in both the dinner and presentation was that hateful acts, like those seen in Charleston, Sandy Hook, or Thousand Oaks, are not isolated, explosive surprises. Rather, those who commit such atrocities, and those who peddle in hate and fear, often leave long trails of vile breadcrumbs that tech companies are beginning to see, but often fall short of their responsibility to act on. Ullah and Pearson noted that while companies like Facebook and Twitter have begun to manage and take down false or hateful content, they often stop just there and say, “Mission Accomplished.” What Ullah and Pearson propose is that these companies and the government track this “digital dust,” as it were, and intervene when appropriate. Now, to be fair, this does open up a ginormous conversation on privacy, freedom of speech, etc., but, they argue, all security comes at a cost and we must decide, as a society, what we deem a socially acceptable cost to combat a rising tide of hate in our world.

Despite the dour nature of the presentation, the two were not without hope. They believe we have the tools to make the world safer, kinder, and better informed. They recommended volunteering with youth, being more inclusive in our social groups (i.e. invite the lonely kid to join you) and being passionate about a cause while respecting others’ views, amongst others. Dr. Ullah ended the presentation with a quote reminding us that while the hate may seem suffocating at times, it will not overcome our opportunity for peace, ““Don’t be frightened by the furious, violent winds, oh eagle. They only blow to make you fly higher.”

You can follow Mr. Pearson and Dr. Ullah on Twitter.

Countering Hate is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Cover photo credit: Hieu Nguyen | Asst. Photo Editor for The Daily Orange.