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No Topic Too Taboo: Fighting Fiction with Fact
Translators at I Believe in Science are fighting fiction with facts by bringing articles about scientific subjects to Arabic readers
June is a difficult month for the team at I Believe in Science. “It’s dark, we receive a lot of hate messages and threats,” says Issam Fawaz, CEO of the organization, which translates evidence-based articles about science-related subjects into Arabic.
Launched in the wake of 9/11, the organization was set up to fight extremism by tackling misinformation and providing access to credible scientific research. They also raise awareness around major global campaigns, including breast cancer in October and prostate cancer and male sexual health in November.
“We get a lot of heartwarming messages from people thanking us because they used to hold extremist views and now they’ve changed,” says Fawaz, who runs the organization from Lebanon.
But June is Pride Month when the team of 250 translators based across the Middle East focus on articles about homosexuality, an area treated with hostility in many parts of the Arab world. “We lose a lot of followers in June,” Fawaz says.
Fighting Fiction with Fact through Social Media
Today, I Believe in Science has amassed over 4.5 million followers on social media, and translated more than 30,000 articles into Arabic, giving readers access to information about the latest developments in physics, chemistry, medicine, and other sciences, as well as stories about evolution, sexual health, astronomy, economics, philosophy, and critical thinking.
Of these, the most popular articles are often about sexual education. “It’s a taboo and it’s not taught in schools,” explains Fawaz, pointing to the vast amount of misinformation that’s passed on in classrooms. There’s also a lot of interest in articles debunking false information. “Evolution attracts a lot of readers,” he adds.
More than 10 years since it launched, I Believe in Science has a network that reaches across the Arab world, with the largest audience in Egypt, followed by Morocco, Algeria, and Iraq.
Social media has been integral to reaching these readers across the region, with platforms on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and soon TikTok, thanks to a grant from the cryptocurrency MobileCoin, which is a partner of Ideas Beyond Borders. “MobileCoin offers a window of hope for us,” says Fawaz, explaining that the relationship goes further than the grant. “We can actually pay the people who work for us in a safe and discreet way.”
Supporting translators through cryptocurrency
Cryptocurrency is booming in Lebanon, where trust in the banking sector is at an all-time low following an economic collapse that has plunged almost three-quarters of the population into poverty. “Since we cannot transfer money out of the country via the banks, MobileCoin is vital for us,” Fawaz says.
Cryptocurrencies are gaining traction across the region, where a lack of faith in corrupt and cumbersome banking systems is encouraging more people to explore alternative methods of transferring funds and investing their money.
It’s also a way of evading notice when receiving income. “A lot of our translators live in police states and have been subject to interrogation and harassment by security services when we send them payments,” Fawaz says. “MobileCoin offers a way to do that without interference.”
Many of the translators at I Believe in Science work in secret, in some cases hiding their work from family and friends. Fawaz refers to one female translator based in Saudi who was punished when her husband discovered she had been translating articles about science into Arabic for a foreign organization.
“He beat her and blocked her access to the internet but she still found a way to keep working for us – printing out the articles through a friend and writing them up by hand,” Fawaz says.
It's this degree of dedication that motivates the team, even when the deluge of hate messages in June makes them fear for their lives. “Our translators are hungry for change and they want to create better communities for everyone to live in,” Fawaz says. “They know it won’t be easy but their enthusiasm and determination keep us all going.”