When someone living in Berlin searches YouTube for racist videos from the Pegida movement–an anti-Islamic group trying to keep refugees out of Germany–they’ll be forced to watch an unskippable ad first. A refugee will personally explain what’s inaccurate about the facts they’re about to hear.
Taim, a Syrian refugee, explains why he won’t be able to take jobs away from Germans. Aglia, a 28-year-old journalist from Syria, cites stats about the fact that refugees aren’t criminals. Najaa, age 23, explains that she came to Germany because her home was bombed, not because she’s after money. Bakary, a refugee from Mali, explains–in German–that it isn’t true that refugees don’t want to learn the local language.
Firas, a 26-year-old refugee, demonstrates that prejudice on Google isn’t limited to refugees:
The ads, part of a campaign called Search Racism: Find Truth, comes from the Berlin-based nonprofit Refugees Welcome (Flüchtlinge Willkommen), which connects new arrivals with German housemates. “At the moment in Germany, there are many hate speech videos, and comments, and emails, especially on our organization,” says Jonas Kakoschke, co-founder of Refugees Welcome. An ad agency offered to help put together videos to fight the prejudice.
“We thought this was a great idea–to take what they use to spread their message … and just use their own weapons to fight against them,” he says. By buying Google AdWords for certain racist keywords, they can match each ad to the worst videos.
“We think that it would be kind of naive to think we can change the mind of a hard-core Nazi, or hard-core right wing people,” says Kokoschke. “But maybe there are some people … who are open to another view, another perspective. Maybe there are some people watching this hate speech videos and now watching our campaign who can be changed a little bit.”
Over time, it’s possible that the campaign will also force right-wing groups to disable advertising on their videos, so they aren’t making money from them.
The ads, which were funded by an outside donation, are also meant to help draw attention to the core mission of Refugees Welcome–helping connect refugees with a safe place to live and German roommates who can help them settle in. So far, Refugees Welcome has matched 300 refugees with rooms in apartments.
Kokoschke also hopes the videos expose people to a new point of view. “We think that it’s important to think about the perspective and the view of the newcomers here in Europe, or anywhere where people are going, before you make your own opinions,” he says.