SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media - January 2021 Monitoring Report

Monday , 01 March 2021
The Flames of Lebanese Discourse

Introduction

The report is a media monitoring endeavor, as part of a larger project entitled “Inclusive Media, Cohesive Society”, which seeks to trace and combat hate speech while ensuring increased representation of marginalized groups. In the pursuit of a more inclusive and open media sphere, this report is the second in a series of studies which aims to monitor segments of problematic speech in various circles of socio-political influence, whether on social media or more traditional means of spreading information. Due to a variety of reasons, including but not restricted to deeply engrained sectarian tendencies and worsening economic hardship, the usage of bigoted and prejudiced rhetoric is recurrently instrumentalized in favor of an exclusionary and “othering” narrative. This reaffirms the necessity for highlighting these instances and bringing them to the fore in order to envision a more promising, ethical, and responsible space for users, producers, and commentators.  

 

Background and context 

Prior to understanding and elaborating on the role and extent of problematic, exclusionary, or incendiary speech directed towards marginalized groups in contemporary Lebanon, it is crucial that the background is carefully detailed in order to contextualize the manner in which these events unfold. Specifically, Lebanon is in constant political flux, given the deteriorating (and collapsing) economic situation on one hand, and security-related turmoil on another. The latter encompasses growing intra-elite tensions as a result of the cabinet deadlock and socio-economic crisis. 

 

The current cabinet deadlock persisted as President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri exchanged accusations concerning the delay in cabinet formation. This only forebodes more strain on the country’s economy in light of a loan offered by the World Bank under dubious conditions pertaining to the exchange rate. Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace have also increased while an explosion near the Syria-Lebanon border raised questions about the ramifications of mafias smuggling basic goods. Following the holiday festivities, Lebanon steered into a full blown COVID-19 crisis. The minister of health himself tested positive, alongside thousands of citizens per day. Hospitals reached their full capacities and healthcare staff had to make impossible decisions. This prompted strict lockdowns with few exceptions.



Methodology

The methods used to locate, collect, and analyze the data pursued in this study, entails a classification based on the three types of platforms examined: Facebook, Twitter, and national television. Moreover, it is crucial to clarify that our study on Facebook specifically monitors problematic speech directed towards one marginalized group, i.e. the LGBTQ+ community, for instance. This does not apply to the selection process pursued with Twitter and national television; in both cases, all instances of problematic/hate speech were targeted. Although the manner in which such speech is defined may vary, a flexible umbrella constituting irresponsible reporting, exaggerations, generalizations, incitement, and exclusionary rhetoric is adapted for our purposes.

Traditional Media
For national television, or traditional media, the first step was to tackle all the stories related to marginalized groups (women/gender equality, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ community, refugees/IDPs, Migrant Workers and Religion/racial) in the media outlets of choice, to see if they are equally represented or overlooked by the media. The second step was to monitor the number of hate speech cases regarding marginalized groups, while taking in consideration the behavior of the host and the guest towards hate speech

The study monitored the main news bulletin and the content of prime talk shows of seven Lebanese channels in the period from January 1 to 7, 2021. Only the first seven days of each month will be monitored.

The media outlet covered in the study are:

  •       Al-Manar
  •       OTV
  •       NBN
  •       LBCI
  •       MTV
  •       Al Jadeed
  •       Tele Liban

    A total of 852 items monitored during this period were entered in a database, and only 6 stories were identified related to marginalized groups, which included the following information:
  •       Title
  •       Date
  •       URL
  •       Section: prime talk shows, News Bulletin
  •       Marginalized groups
  •       Number of hate speech cases
  •       Political affiliation of initiator of hate speech
  •       Hate speech initiator social group
  •       Behavior of the host
  •       Behavior of the guest
  •       Political affiliation of the guest
  •       Guest social group

Twitter
The Twitter section of the report briefly assesses the topics covered via the hashtags, any problematic rhetoric, hate speech filled tweets, or trends, that appear within the monitoring timeframe. The profiles of the instigators will also be assessed, as well as the potential networks spreading the hashtags and/or tweets. Screenshots may be added when obtainable as well to further demonstrate trends. To add another dimension for this study, we look at whether marginalized groups (Women, Refugees, LGBTQ+ etc.) are included within the conversation or entirely excluded.

From Monday to Friday, the daily hashtags are monitored at precisely 10 am. In addition, a timeframe of 9:45 am to 10:15 am was chosen, where the top hashtags in Lebanon are monitored. Even if relevant tweets outside this timeframe are found, they will not be included, in order to maintain the integrity of the data. This report will contain a sample of the hashtags monitored and not the entire available data for brevity.


For this month, the monitoring of the data on twitter has been done manually, as illustrated above, and without the benefit of a twitter data extraction tool. In the upcoming months, the report will take on a further dimension as it becomes equipped with the data and accessibility of the twitter extraction tool. Such a development will provide opportunities for more in-depth analysis as well as wider scope of work. The data was obtained, and the monitoring conducted, between January 11 to 15, 2021.

 

Facebook

Despite the complexity of locating generalizable trends across this study, we have limited the method to keeping count of accessible Facebook posts and comments which discuss or tackle the LGBTQ+ community in any way on a number of pages of political parties, newspapers, news stations, news sites, and civil society organizations. This report also documents posts which specifically contain problematic, exclusive, or bigoted speech directed towards the community on all the aforementioned platforms. Although ways in which such speech is defined may vary, a flexible umbrella constituting irresponsible reporting, exaggerations, generalizations, incitement, and exclusivity is put to use for our purposes.

While it may be key to understand how large these numbers are relative to the total population, manually counting all posts made by all examined pages is unfeasible; such an element will be added further when the adequate technology is available. In total, 37 pages were examined via the Facebook search engine tool; all in all, 16 reachable posts and comments tackled the community, and all of them constituted problematic speech. The following keywords were used to locate the posts under study:


المثليين
المثلية
مثليين
مثلي
سحاقية
لوطي
شاذ
“Loute”/”Louti”/”Lout”

As for the time interval in which this information was collected, it strictly included posts and comments made from January 15 to 22, 2021. This interval also represents the range of the context elaborated and described in the first section.

 

Hate Speech in Traditional Media

 

Political and health crises in Lebanon were the main headlines of the news bulletin and the content of prime time talk shows of the seven Lebanese channels: Al-Manar, OTV, NBN, LBCI, MTV, Al Jadeed, and Télé Liban. The news and talk shows’ main topics during the monitoring period were divided into two categories:

  • Health-related topics: The struggle and challenges of the health sector during the sudden significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, as the hospitals were overwhelmed with patients, which resulted in a surge of demand in oxygen tanks.
  • Political topics: The delay in the formation of the Lebanese government, in light of the mutual accusations between political parties blaming one another for this delay.


As a result of the above, topics related to women/gender equality, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ community, refugees/IDPs and other marginalized groups decreased, which indicates that these groups were overlooked, once again, in the Lebanese media.


During the monitoring period:

A- The news bulletins recorded 852 stories, where 6 stories were identified related to Marginalized Groups (MG) as shown in Figure 1:
  • Two stories about people with disabilities (NBN)
  • Four stories about refugees/displaced people (NBN, TL, OTV, Al Jadeed), in which two of these stories contained direct and hidden content that can lead to hate speech and escalate to aggression against refugees/displaced people.




B- The prime time talk shows recorded 16 It is worth mentioning that none of them were related to marginalized groups (figure 3). The main topics of discussion in the programs tackled issues related to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Lebanon and the challenges that the health sector is facing, in light of the shortage in oxygen tanks and hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

 

It is also worth noting that the program "Talk of the Hour" on Al-Manar was not broadcasted during the monitored week as the new season for 2021 had not been released at the time.



Hate speech

During the monitored week, two stories in the prime-time news bulletin tackling Syrian refugees contained hate speech as shown in figure 5. This content came days after a Syrian refugee camp was set on fire in the Minieh area in north Lebanon, after a dispute between Syrian refugees and their employer (a local family). This incident increased the number of hate speech stories in news bulletins compared to the first week of December 2020, as illustrated in figure 7.

 

 1- Télé Liban:

MP Eddy Abillama along with lawyer Elie Mahfoud filed a lawsuit against a Syrian citizen named Mojhamad Kamal Al-Labwani, who encouraged Syrian refugees to form armed militia in Lebanon following the Syrian refugee camp was set on fire in northern Lebanon. During an interview on TL prime-time news, Mr. Mahfoud stated: "The person against whom we filed a lawsuit implied threats that all Syrian refugees in Lebanon are armed and have two million rifles."

During the interview, Mr. Mahfoud interpreted what Al-Labwani said and considered all Syrian refugees form an armed militia and carrying or ready to carry guns and rifles. The content of the interview is considered derogatory speech (so were Mr. Al-Labwani’s statements) and can lead to aggressive attitude against refugees/displaced people, at a time when hostility is growing towards Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

 

2- OTV:

The introduction of the prime-time news bulletin featured the following: "The uncontrolled Palestinian weapons alone did not disturb the foundations of the state. Rather, some Lebanese who dealt with this weapon, which paved the road to war and exposed the Palestinian cause to danger, and Lebanon to the risk of settlement… The experience is open to be repeated with the Syrian displacement".

In this instance of problematic speech, OTV points out that the scenario of war, weapons, and risk of resettlement that occurred with the Palestinian refugees can be repeated with Syrian refugees. The comparison, which carries generalization, might lead to an aggressive attitude towards refugees/displaced people.





Hate Speech on Twitter 

 

The nature of Twitter, and the methodology detailed earlier for extracting data from this platform, allow for a broader view of the subjects pertaining to Lebanese society and daily life. This section of the report dwells upon the pressing issues which occupied the public sphere. The highlights included heated discussions around Health Minister Hamad Hassan’s infection with COVID-19, the accusations thrown around among well-known political figures as well as the severe progression of the pandemic itself after the holidays. As stated earlier, this report covers the period from January 11 to 15, 2021. However, some of the literature below includes updates from the weekend (January 16-17) to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.


Hashtags and statistics:

 

Hashtag

Explanation / Meaning

11-Jan-21

#Beirut

 

#صباحو

Good Morning

#Lebanon

 

#كورونا

Corona

#باسيل

Bassil

#ترامب

Trump

#الحريري

Hariri

#مسعود_الاشقر

Massoud Al Achkar was a prominent Christian commander from the civil war who fought against the Syrians. He passed away.

#لبنان

Lebanon

12-Jan-21

#غرد_كزياد_اسود

Tweet like Ziad Assouad (MP known for his rude and problematic tweets). All the tweets here were simply poetry or criticism of MP Assouad.

#سعد_الكذاب

Saad the liar: a video was leaked where Aoun speaks to PM Hassan Diab and accuses Hariri of lying about having prepared a list of candidates for his cabinet.

#حكي_صادق

Haki Sadek (Truthful Talk): a new talk show hosted by Dima Sadek

#للكذب_عنوان_عون_وجبران

Lying has a title: Aoun and Gebran (A counter hashtag about Aoun's leaked video where he called Saad a liar)

#لبنان

Lebanon

#بايدن

Biden

#باسيل

Bassil

#الحريري

Hariri

#لقاح_امن

Safe Vaccine

#مجرور_الجديد

AlJadeed sewer

13-Jan-21

#بدنا_حسن_زهره

We want Hassan Zahra (Lebanese farmer from Chebaa who was kidnapped by the IDF a day before)

#اسراييل

Israel

#حربي_بالاجواء

Fighters in the air (Israeli fighter jets have been consistently breaching Lebanese airspace, often flying at low altitudes)

#رفيق_الحريري

Rafic Hariri

#LBCI

 

#الدولار

The dollar

#Beirut

 

#Syria

 

#صباح_الخير

Good Morning

14-Jan-21

#نوال_الزغبي_حقيره

Nawal El Zoghbi is despicable (plenty of problematic tweets but none that openly encouraging she gets hurt)

#بدي_اعترف

I want to confess (just people complaining about the general situation)

#سلامتك_حمد_حسن

Get well soon Hamad Hassan (Minister of Public Health tested positive for covid)

#بايدن

Biden

#الدولار

The dollar

#عون_فات_عدير_الصليب_يزور_سعد

Aoun entered Deir Al Salib to visit Saad

#الحريري

Hariri

#freezethefees

Hashtag started by student activists to stop increasing tuition fees and their dollarization

#خليك_بالبيت

Stay home

#كورونا_لبنان

Corona Lebanon

15-Jan-21

#بايدن

Biden

#لبنان

Lebanon

#الحريري

Hariri

#عبالي

I want

#خليك_بالبيت

Stay home

#جمعه_مباركه

Good Friday

Figure 8: Hashtags and Statistics 11-15 January

Out of the 44 monitored hashtags, only one of them openly incited hate speech, however. Problematic rhetoric was used in multiple tweets as shown below, albeit primarily related to politics. Some noteworthy events also took place this week, as highlighted in the traditional media section of this report, which can be linked to some of the monitored trends.

It was a stressful week for the Lebanese as Israeli military aircraft persistently violated Lebanese airspace, while flying at low altitudes. In response, Lebanon filed a complaint against Israel to the UN Security Council. This would explain the hashtags (#حربي_بالاجواء) and (#اسراييل), as evident in figure 8. Israel also abducted sheperd Hassan Zahra near the border, claiming he is a Hezbollah spy. This prompted the hashtag (#بدنا_حسن_زهره), found in figure 8. Many tweets were from Hezbollah supporting accounts, asking why civil society activists have not yet voiced their concern about the incident. Regardless, independent outlets made sure to give the incident enough attention later in the day. Hassan Zahra was releasted three days later.

In terms of COVID-19, the country entered its 11-day lockdown, during which it set a new record for the pandemic numbers with 6,154 cases and 44 deaths. The aforementioned increase in number of cases is the reason behing certain hashtags related to the vaccine (#لقاح_امن) or coronavirus (#كورونا) in general as well as staying home (#خليك_بالبيت), as displayed in figure 8. In addition, the Lebanese government has been working on vaccine deals to cover a total of 2.4 million people in Lebanon. The parliament passed a law protecting Pfizer-BioNtech as well as other coronavirus vaccine providers from liability claims for two years.

Furthermore, Minister of Public Health Hamad Hassan tested positive for COVID-19. This prompted supporters to start a hashtag wishing him a safe recovery (#سلامتك_حمد_حسن) as well as another hashtag insulting artist Nawal Al Zughbi (#نوال_الزغبي_حقيره), as shown in image 1. Al Zughbi had earlier pointed out the irony of his predicament. The minister is a controversial figure due to multiple photos showing him attending crowded events and breaking the very policies he pushed for, as well as his known affiliation with Hezbollah.

In the tweet below, we see one of the instigators trying to make the hashtag (#نوال_الزغبي_حقيره) trending:


Img.1


Haki Sadek (#حكي_صادق) was trending as Dima Sadek, a well-known journalist and activist, started her own talk show, in which she criticized Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah. Sadek is often the target of Hezbollah supporters, who are highly active on social media and Twitter in particular. Later in the week, after she posted a tweet about her mother passing away, many Hezbollah-supporting accounts were wishing a similar fate upon Dima’s disabled daughter. The tweets did not fall within the monitoring timeframe and were henceforth not recorded but we found this worth mentioning, nonetheless. It also shows a duality of standards when it comes to empathy and morality for the online Hezbollah crowds.


A video was leaked in which President Michel Aoun speaks to PM Hassan Diab and accuses Saad Hariri of lying about having prepared a list of candidates for his cabinet. The scandal sparked a heated online debate, and a hashtag was started (#سعد_الكذاب) calling Hariri a liar. In return, another hashtag was trending (#للكذب_عنوان_عون_وجبران) which means “Lying has a title: Aoun and Gebran” (Gebran Bassil). In the tweet below (image 2), the author claims that Hariri is honest and that they hate all those who incite sectarianism and racism. The tweet, shown in image 3, is Blue Force (Future Movement/Hariri supporters) saying that Aoun and Bassil supporters need to be burned alive and calling them a sickness to be purged.


Img.2


Img.3

Hashtags related to Syria were primarily focused on disseminating news rather than opinion, let alone problematic rhetoric or even hate speech. It is also worth noting that marginalized groups, other refugees/migrants, were not mentioned at all this week, neither in the hashtags nor in the monitored tweets.


Finally, the World Bank announced that it will grant Lebanon $246 million in emergency cash assistance to alleviate the diverse crises its population is facing. The grant aims to support 786,000 people and will be distributed at the L.L. 6,240 rate. It makes sense that the hashtag (#الدولار), in figure 8, was trending yet again this week.

 

Hate Speech on Facebook

Despite Lebanon’s past of multifaceted conflicts and their diverse natures, LGBTQ+ have historically been among the most oppressed minorities in Lebanon. Opposing views often converge on a singular point: the hate for LGBTQ+ people. This can usually be seen in simple insults derived from likening someone to a homosexual and considering them a plague on society.

In order to summarize and visualize the data gathered, a few charts and graphs are found below. It is crucial to take into account that indications stemming from this data cannot be taken as conclusive or final due to the limited range in which this is being examined, alongside other variables which may reinforce bias.







Comparative indicators 

Despite the limitations mentioned above, it is possible to arrive at specific comparative indications. News sites have retained their ability to be a hub for discussion to many looking for quick insight on recurrent issues. The availability of such spaces has facilitated problematic expressions towards the LGBTQ+ community in the Lebanese context, as shown in figure 11.

Outlets other than such news sites also seem to be less reluctant about sharing news which concerns the LGBTQ+ community and various developments pertaining to its individual members. When this is done, it induces a backlash amongst many conversative users in the comment section, bringing such topics back to the discussion.

Similar to prior conclusions regarding the issue of refugees, the topic of LGBTQ+ rights is not primarily being discussed on a recurrent basis by the average user and/or platform. This is primarily due to the swift developments related to the socio-economic and health crisis in the country. Nevertheless, two key indicators are important to point out:

 

  1. In the midst of immense political contention, mentioned earlier in this report, especially with the cabinet deadlock, regional updates, and the contested legitimacy of the ruling class, the political conversation in the country has remained heated and polarized. This has pushed users to employ derogatory comments with negative bigoted connotations against the LGBTQ+ community when communicating in opposition to certain politicians or political factions. This primarily means that the community is still perceived as “unnatural,” “against the norm.” and generally “worth” receiving negative normative platitudes.

  2. Every single comment which mentioned the LGBTQ+ community on mainstream political and news pages was derogatory. This merits a hypothesis: despite a general context which mirrors a supposed rise in progressive anti-establishment values, a patriarchal, sexist, and homophobic verbal atmosphere still dominates much of the conversation on the rights of marginalized groups. Such an indicator may, and indeed does, refute the assumption that a linear trajectory towards liberal values is a given in Lebanon. The supposed rise of progressive and inclusive youth social groups or spaces is no apparent deterrent. While it is too soon to arrive at a conclusive answer, one may also hypothesize that this has to do with the top-down nature of media in the country.


Conclusion

The prevalent topics of discussion this week were the health crisis and the political stalemate. The intensity of both crises did not leave enough room for much else in the news in general. However, it is worth noting that once again marginalized groups were not even part of a trending discussion this month. This becomes clearer considering the Facebook section of this report was the only one to pick up on any mention of a marginalized group (significantly problematic rhetoric towards LGBTQ+) primarily because there was a targeted effort on the part of this report to seek it out. The LGBTQ+ community was in no way part of a prevalent discussion. This is not to conclude that minorities or marginalized communities are not facing any threats. As extensively discussed in the previous report, Syrian refugee camps were being burnt to the ground just last month. Hate speech and problematic rhetoric continue to fester, and the flames of another hate-crime are being rekindled.


The earlier report (December) pointed out that there is a continuous shift from traditional media setting trends to social media having a considerable influence over prevalent matters of discussion. Evidently, social media remains more accessible and malleable as seen on Twitter. Trends could be promoted if the necessary effort is put in to bring key conversations to the table. These conversations must be ones that foster acceptance, awareness, and dismantle harmful discourse before the flames of hate speech turn into another raging fire.

Share News