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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media - December 2021 Monitoring Report

Friday , 01 April 2022
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency/Mahmut Geldi

THE DOUBLE PLIGHT OF REFUGEES IN LEBANON

 

Introduction


The report is a media monitoring endeavor, as part of a larger project entitled “Inclusive Media, Cohesive Society” (IMeCS), 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 thirteenth 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 open, ethical, and responsible space for users, producers, and commentators. 


Background and context 


Before expanding on the implications of problematic, exclusionary, or incendiary speech directed towards marginalized social groups in the country, it is important that the context is carefully detailed in order to highlight the manner in which these events unfold.


While the previous month’s report noted limited overall online hate speech activity, the month of December 2021 seems to indicate a resurgence of inflammatory rhetoric activities. Even though once again no hate speech was identified in prime-time news and talk shows, 87% of reachable Facebook posts and comments constituted problematic speech, an almost 7-fold increase over the previous month. Due to a technical problem, Twitter’s monitoring could not be performed, which did not allow a trend comparison with other reports.


This month the compounding crisis continues to intensify in Lebanon, increasingly impacting the population, which may partly explain the continuous increase of hate speech on the Lebanese media landscape and social media. Over the past two years, the Lebanese currency has lost more than 93 percent of its value against the dollar, and according to ESCWA, poverty in Lebanon has drastically increased and now affects about three-quarters of the population. As second-class citizens, marginalized communities such as refugees find themselves further marginalized, and their access to essential goods is increasingly restricted. In addition, faced with funding shortages representing half of its budget, UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is increasingly unable to meet the needs of refugees. Therefore, they are all the more isolated in the face of a scapegoating dynamic.


At the same time, the repression of dissenting voices or those who try to hold people in power accountable is becoming more and more critical. In this regard, Samir Kassir Foundation’s SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom reported that more than 100 media workers have come under assault from non-state actors in Lebanon between the start of the uprising in October 2019 and November 2021. The monitoring of content on social media or more traditional means of disseminating information can thus show a translation of this repression towards freedom of expression and the lack of representativeness of various communities.


Methodology


The methods used to locate, collect, and analyze the data pursued in this study, entail 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., this month, refugees. 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+, refugees/IDPs, migrant workers, and religious/racial denominations) 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 into consideration the behavior of the host and the guest towards hate speech.


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


The media outlets covered in the study are:

  •       Al-Manar

  •       OTV

  •       NBN

  •       LBCI

  •       MTV

  •       Al Jadeed

  •       Télé Liban


A total of 769 items monitored during this period were entered in a database, where five stories were identified related to marginalized groups, which included the following information:

  •       Title

  •       Date

  •       URL

  •       Section: prime talk shows, news bulletins

  •       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

 

Facebook

Being the fourth Facebook monitoring report on refugees, the methodology used has been consistent since the commencement of this project, allowing us to utilize comparative methods to reach more significant conclusions. This constitutes keeping count of accessible posts and comments that discuss refugees on a number of pages of political parties, newspapers, news stations, news sites, and civil society organizations, alongside posts that may include problematic, exclusive, or bigoted speech directed towards the displaced community. Although the attitudes in which such a discourse is defined may vary (“physical incitement” or “bigoted reporting”), a flexible broader conception constituting irresponsible reporting, exaggerations, generalizations, incitement, and exclusivity is put to use for the purposes of this study.


In total, 37 pages were examined via the Facebook search engine too; all in all, 292 reachable posts and comments tackled refugees and their needs and/or desires, and 247 of them constituted problematic speech. The following keywords were used to locate the posts under study:

  • نازحين

  • النازحين

  • لاجئين

  • اللاجئين

  • الفلسطينيين

  • فلسطيني

  • فلسطينيين

  • سوريين

  • سوري

  • السوريين

 

As for the time interval in which this information was collected, it strictly included posts and comments made from December 15 to 22, 2022.

 

Hate Speech in Traditional Media


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

  • Political topics: the Lebanese Minister of Information George Kordahi resignation to resolve a dispute with Saudi Arabia dispute and Pope Francis’s visit to the island of Cyprus.
  • Health topics: The Lebanese government’s tighter measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 during the coming.


As a result of the above, topics related to marginalized groups (women/gender equality, people with disabilities, LGBT, refugees/IDPs, and other marginalized groups) decreased this month, which indicates that these groups were overlooked in the Lebanese media.


Exceptionally this month, NBN’s news bulletins were not included in the monitoring.


The news bulletins recorded 769 stories, where five stories were identified related to marginalized groups:
 

  • Five stories about people with disabilities (on LBCI, OTV, Al Manar, LBCI):

-LBCI, Al Manar, and MTV: Three stories on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, focusing on the challenges they face during the financial and economic crisis that the country is going through.

-LBCI: UNICEF and ILO, in partnership with the European Union, launched a new national disability allowance to provide cash support to people with disabilities living in Lebanon.

-OTV: On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, President Michel Aoun stressed the importance of supporting children with special needs in Lebanon. He added: “there is a greater work to be done based on love and determination.”

Channels

MTV

Al Jadeed

TL

LBCI

OTV

Al Manar

Total # of stories

154

144

102

116

98

155

Stories on marginalized groups

1

0

0

2

1

1

Figure 1: Breakdown of stories on Lebanese channels (news bulletins)



Figure 2: Stories on marginalized groups to total number of stories (news bulletins)


The prime time talk shows recorded 25 topics. Seven prime time talk shows were monitored: It’s about time (MTV), And now what (New), Twenty 30 (LBCI), Lebanon Today (TL), Today’s Discussion (OTV), Talk of the Hour (Al-Manar), and The Fourth Estate (NBN).

Only one of them was related to marginalized groups, as shown in figure 3. The story is about the case of a young man with special needs talking about the difficulties he suffers due to the economic and financial crisis (MTV). While the other stories focused on the upcoming elections, the medicine crisis, and the implications of George Kordahi’s resignation.

Channels

NBN

MTV

Al Jadeed

TL

LBCI

OTV

Al Manar

Total # of stories/sections

5

5

3

4

3

3

2

Stories on marginalized groups

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

Figure 3: Stories breakdown on Lebanese channels (talk shows)



Figure 4: Stories on marginalized groups to total number of stories (talk shows)


 

Figure 5: Comparison of story types in prime talk shows and news bulletins


It is worth mentioning that stories on women/gender equality and LGBTQ+ were totally overlooked in both news bulletins and in prime-time talk shows that were monitored.


This month no hate speech or problematic content was identified in both news bulletins and prime time talk shows.

 

Hate Speech on Facebook


Given the immense deterioration of the economic situation, it is evident that those most marginalized in Lebanese society are particularly vulnerable vis-à-vis the crisis taking place. Syrian and Palestinian refugees had historically been confined to professions with long working hours, cheap labor, poor infrastructure conditions, and societal discrimination. Following the recent decision by the Minister of Labor this month to allow Palestinians to work in professions that require syndicate membership, bigoted statements and sentiments focused on the decision’s economic and social implications surfaced on social media networks. Notable examples include statements released by Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Gebran Bassil and the Kataeb party. Both are included in our sample.

A few days later, an explosion rocked a Palestinian refugee camp in the southern city of Tyre, with some suggesting that the explosion may have been caused by a weapons depot belonging to Hamas, an armed Palestinian faction with a significant following in many Palestinian camps. A few days later, armed clashes reportedly took place between Hamas and its rival Fatah, another Palestinian faction with a historic presence in Lebanon. Accordingly, some analysts centered much of their focus on the security threat of Palestinian refugee camps, rather than separate between armed Palestinian factions and the rest of the population living in the camps.

These particular political and security-based escalations draw the background behind much of the public discourse around refugees in the weeks to come. In this report, we put forth an analysis of the commentary and user interaction, alongside an overall yet limited perspective of the type of speech targeting refugees in the country on a regular basis.

In order to concisely wrap up and visualize the data garnered, some charts and figures 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.


 
 

Figure 6: Percentage distribution of problematic posts/comments across types of pages

 

 

Figure 7: Percentage distribution of total posts/comments across types of pages

 

 

Figure 8: Distribution of problematic posts/comments v. Type of page



Figure 9: Number of problematic posts/comments on news stations’ Facebook pages

 

 

Figure 10: Number of problematic posts/comments on political parties’ Facebook pages

 

 

Figure 11: Number of problematic posts/comments on news sites’ Facebook pages

 

 
Figure 12: Number of problematic posts/comments on newspapers’ Facebook pages


Key insights and comparative indicators

First and foremost, it is crucial to take into account that as women’s rights issues are multifold, ranging from participation in the democratic process to the impact of the socio-economic crises such as harassment and malnutrition, the commentary on these platforms roughly reflects these very topics. For instance, some published content pertaining to women’s rights or empowerment, specifically on the Facebook platforms of political parties, focused primarily on the question of women candidates for the 2022 parliamentary elections.


In terms of the overall distribution of content, it follows a similar pattern to that of the October 2021 study, in which television stations and news sites (to a lesser extent) platforms hold much of the relevant content on the matter. In the case of the former, controversial talk shows including conversations revolving around cases of abuse, harassment, or pedophilia induced a mixture of supportive and bigoted responses within the comments.


In addition, similar to the October study and reports which have preceded it, sexist and misogynistic content remain frequently used when addressing political opponents and adversaries. This follows a pattern in which women are constantly sexualized in the public domain, as demonstrated by images used and abused in El-Sharq Newspaper, owned by Lebanese Press Order head Aouni Kaaki.


Conclusion


The observation from last month’s report that no hasty conclusions could be drawn regarding the decrease in online hate speech activity seems to be confirmed by this month’s content monitoring. Indeed, as with other hate speech reports that were produced, divisive narratives seem to continue to shape the media sphere, resulting in a less inclusive and open environment. At the same time, marginalized communities, in addition to suffering the multidimensional crisis more intensely, are always the object of various attacks without the existence of the necessary judicial, political, or media tools to ensure their protection.


As such, the content from Facebook monitoring, which highlighted a relatively “encouraging” rhetoric regarding women’s participation in the coming elections, also pointed out the lack of discussion around other socio-economic issues that may affect them, and the lack of rights granted to them. While INTERSOS concluded that domestic violence, early marriage, sexual harassment and exploitation, and denial of resources are still common practices in Lebanon, only a few media outlets have reported on women’s issues in the country. In this regard, Daraj highlighted how the Beirut port explosion had exacerbated women’s suffering, while Now Lebanon showed how reproductive health and motherhood had been particularly affected by the crisis, with the maternal mortality rate more than doubling.


Therefore, the lack of inclusiveness in the media sphere in Lebanon translates into insufficient protection for women and other marginalized communities who lack the tools to address these issues. This is notably the conclusion of the women’s rights group ABAAD, which estimated that 96% of girls and women in Lebanon who experienced domestic violence in 2021 did not report it. This conclusion can also be applied to other marginalized groups, such as people with disabilities. Despite the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, which could have been the subject of several stories to highlight the challenges they face during the financial and economic crisis, only a few media outlets took this opportunity to report on this group. Consequently, people with disabilities find themselves further marginalized, with no possibility of lobbying state or non-state actors to advance their cause. The report “Disability and Inclusion,” released by a grouping of NGOs, showed how people with disabilities often have no access to resources or too little information to assist them in their struggle.


Thus, as the media and journalists are increasingly repressed, marginalized communities become more isolated. Attacks on freedom of expression, increased hate speech, and the lack of representation of marginalized communities are intertwined in a vicious cycle.

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