SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media - April 2022 Monitoring Report

Monday , 01 August 2022
Photo credit: AFP/Ibrahim Chalhoub

ONE MONTH BEFORE THE ELECTIONS: THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM?

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 seventeenth 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 

 

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.


In the midst of campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for May 15, 2022, one would think that April would have seen an increase in hate speech and stigmatization of marginalized communities. Instead, for the second time since the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) engaged in this type of reporting, there has been a decrease in hate speech across platforms and increased exposure of marginalized communities. In traditional media, the number of stories related to marginalized communities increased by two percent over the previous month, with many media outlets using World Autism Awareness Day to talk about people with this disability. In comparison, there are three times as many stories about people with autism as there were this time last year.


Twitter had a low number of problematic tweets compared to the last tracking. This positive trend may be explained by the intensity of events in the region that focused users’ attention away from domestic issues. The large-scale Israeli raid on the refugee camp in the heart of the city of Jenin in Palestine or the Israeli air raids in Syria are some examples of such notable events. Despite the potential pole of hate speech and stigmatizing remarks they could have provoked, very few were registered.

In spite of this positive change, which should not be considered a long-term trend, the Lebanese media landscape still does not allow for a fair representation of candidates, and traditional media are often attached to a personality or a political party that finance them. No less than six candidates with local TV shows or online pages have announced their candidacy in the upcoming elections. Also, as candidates’ lists closed this month, Lebanon saw little representation from marginalized communities. For example, only 103 women are running for office (up from 86 in the last elections in 2018), making up only 16% of the total number of candidates. Nevertheless, some media outlets, such as The961 or L’Orient-le-Jour, to name a few, do not hesitate to highlight them by publishing articles dedicated to female candidates.

 

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, 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+ community, 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 in 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 talk shows of seven Lebanese channels in the period from April 1 to 7, 2022. Only the first seven days of each month were monitored.

 

The media outlet covered in the study are:

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

 

A total of 884 items monitored during this period were entered in a database, where twenty 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

On the second week of each month, from April 8 to 12, the top 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. Only the hashtags that were used in tweets of problematic rhetoric will be displayed.

Simultaneously, any tweets found outside this timeframe displaying such rhetoric will be taken note of, and an analysis of Twitter as a whole will be conducted. The purpose is to better understand what makes this type of harmful discourse trending. This report also briefly assesses the topics covered, the profiles of the instigators, as well as the potential networks spreading the hashtags and/or tweets. Screenshots may be added when obtainable as well to further demonstrate trends, if necessary. To add another dimension to this study, we look at whether marginalized groups (women, refugees, LGBTQ, etc.) are included within the conversation or entirely excluded.


This report covers the period between April 8 to April 12, 2022 (dates included). Some of the literature below may include updates from days throughout the month of April to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.

 

Facebook

As we proceed with the fifth Facebook report on user interaction with content concerned with refugees, the methodology utilized has remained consistent since our first report. This includes keeping count of accessible posts and comments that tackle refugees on several 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 fleeing community. Although the attitudes in which such a discourse is defined may change (“physical incitement” or “bigoted reporting”), a flexible broader conception revolving around irresponsible reporting, exaggerations, generalizations, incitement, and exclusivity is utilized in this study.

 

In total, 37 pages were examined via the Facebook search engine too; all in all, 15 reachable posts and comments tackled refugees and their needs and/or desires, and 12 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 April 15-22, 2022. This interval also represents the range of the context elaborated and described in the first section.

 

Hate Speech in Traditional Media

 

The main topics of the news bulletin and the content of prime talk shows during the monitoring period of seven Lebanese channels: Al-Manar, OTV, NBN, LBCI, MTV, Al Jadeed, and Télé Liban focused on:

  • The upcoming parliamentary elections (candidates and electoral lists).
  • Deputy Prime Minister Saadeh Chami stated that both the state and the Central Bank were bankrupt.
  • Funding delays worsening Lebanon’s wheat crisis.
  • Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry announces the return of the Kingdom’s ambassador to Lebanon.
  • The Russian Ukrainian war.


This month recorded the highest number of stories related to marginalized groups since the beginning of this project. During the monitoring period:


The news bulletins recorded 884 stories, where 20 stories were identified related to marginalized groups, as shown in figure 1:

  • Seven stories about w omen and gender equality (TL, MTV, OTV, Al Jadeed, and Al Manar). The first story is about one of the female candidates, who said during the launch of her list that Lebanese women should be able to give their nationality to their children. The second and third stories are about Claudine Aoun’s (the head of the National Authority for Lebanese Women Affairs) visit to Zahia High School, part of a series of tours to public secondary schools to spread awareness about the prevention of violence against girls. The fourth and fifth stories are about the significant number of women’s participation in the upcoming elections. The sixth and seventh stories are about honoring the winners of the “L’Oréal-UNESCO for Women in Science” program by President Michel Aoun.
  • Two stories about refugees (NBN and OTV) shed light on a meeting held by Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Minister of Education Abbas Al-Halabi, with UNICEF and UNHCR representatives. They agreed on measures to ensure the continuation of education in Lebanese public schools for Syrian students in the afternoon shift, despite the lack of attendance and financial aid from donors.
  • Eleven stories about people with disabilities (MTV, Al Jadeed, LBCI, NBN, TL, and Al Manar). The increase in the number of stories is due to World Autism Awareness Day. Three stories shed light on Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s sponsorship of the “First Northern Autism Forum” ceremony organized by the Engineers Syndicate in the North in cooperation with the “National Autism Society” at the union’s headquarters in Tripoli. Six stories are about cases of autistic children in Lebanon and their daily struggle with their families and institutions amid the financial-economic crisis. One story is about the importance of receiving autism-appropriate education and support at key developmental stages to gain essential social skills and react better in society. One story is about a national campaign launched by the founder of the National Autism Association Center (NAC), Rima Frangieh, the campaign aimed at shedding light on this disorder and the importance of creating an inclusive and accessible world for all its members.

 

Channels

NBN

MTV

Al Jadeed

TL

LBCI

OTV

Al Manar

Total # of stories

123

177

139

127

119

90

109

Stories on marginalized groups

4

3

2

4

1

3

3

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 21 topics, and only one of these topics was identified as related to marginalized groups. The story sheds light on the unprecedented number of 118 women running for the elections of the 128-seat Lebanese parliament scheduled for May 15, as shown in figure 3. At the same time, the main topics of discussion in the programs tackled the upcoming parliamentary elections and capital control law. Six prime time talk shows monitored: And Now What (Al Jadeed), Lebanon Today (TL), Today’s Discussion (OTV), Talk of the Hour (Al-Manar), Twenty30 (LBCI), and It's About Time (MTV). It is worth noting that the program “The Fourth Estate” on NBN was not broadcasted during Ramadan.

 

Channels

NBN

MTV

Al Jadeed

TL

LBCI

OTV

Al Manar

Total # of stories/sections

0

6

2

2

5

4

2

Stories on marginalized groups

0

0

0

1

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 on story types in prime talk shows and news bulletins

 

It is worth mentioning that stories on LGBTQ+ were clearly 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 Twitter

 

The nature of Twitter, and the methodology detailed earlier for extracting data from this platform, allow for a more panoptic view of the subjects pertaining to Lebanese society and daily life. With a turbulent context of assassinations, bullying, and harassment dominating the public debate, Twitter unravels the daily anxieties and attitudes of the population’s response. This report covers the period from April 8 to 12, 2022. Some of the literature below may include updates from days throughout the month of April to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.

 

Hashtags and Statistics


Figure 6:  Language of tweets


Figure 7: Gender of author


Figure 8: Political affiliation of author


Figure 9: Gender of target


Figure 10: Types of targeted groups

 

Hashtag

Explanation / Meaning

11-Apr-22

#عملاء_السفارات

Embassy agents

12-Apr-22

#لبنان

Lebanon

#القوات_اللبنانية

The Lebanese Forces

#لبنانية

Lebanese

#سمير_جعجع

Samir Geagea

#وطن

Country

Figure 11: Key hashtags from April 8 to 12


Key Insights

A record low number of problematic tweets characterized the month of April 2022. A large-scale Israeli raid was conducted against the refugee camp at the heart of Jenin city in Palestine, leaving a Palestinian fighter dead and 13 wounded. The city is of great significance as a symbol of resistance after a similar raid was orchestrated on the same day (April 9), 20 years ago. Hence, the events in Jenin, Palestine, were accompanied by overwhelming support online. The solidarity came from various accounts and backgrounds, but the vast majority were Hezbollah-supporting accounts. This was also reflected in the top hashtags. And while many tweets utilized the incidents to push their own political agenda or possibly misinformation, none of them would count as problematic rhetoric, let alone hate speech, as defined in the bounds of this project. Further attempts were made to locate problematic tweets spreading right-wing anti-Palestinian rhetoric amidst the “replies,” but nothing of the sort was found. 


Regardless, April was not devoid of inflammatory discourse. Indeed, of the handful of problematic tweets found, two were by Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporters, and two were by Hezbollah supporters. In addition, a Future Movement supporter’s tweet was documented.


Near the end of the month, an intense campaign was propagated online by the FPM supporters against journalist and TV host Dima Sadek and her daughter, who suffers from Joubert Syndrome. The magnitude of this campaign is unprecedented to the extent that it had to be included in this report, despite not falling within the monitoring period. Only a selection of prominent tweets will be displayed and discussed, as the charts above in the statistics section only account for tweets between the 8th and 12th of each month.


The campaign seems to be primarily led by this account, which takes pride in instigating the hashtag, as seen in its bio as seen in Img. 1 below. One of the more popular tweets is shown in Img. 2. In what counts as textbook hate speech, the author hopes they can “make a necklace out of Dima Sadek’s teeth,” which is a metaphor for beating her so severely that her teeth would fall out.


Img. 1: Profile of key spreader – in the bio, they take pride in spreading the hashtag against Dima Sadek and her daughter    


Img. 2: Tweet calling Dima a “disabled’s mother” and promoting violence against her

 

They did not stop there either, as they posted Dima Sadek’s private information and contact details in Img. 3 below, a heinous violation of her and her daughter’s privacy, which poses a serious security threat.

 

Img. 3: Tweet disseminating Dima Sadek’s private information and contact details    

 

Furthermore, a couple of key accounts monitored are involved in the dissemination of the hashtag. Their respective tweets are shown below in Img. 4 and Img. 5. One of the authors even makes a reference to a recurring hashtag that attacks Dima Sadek (ديما الواطية), saying the (ام_المعاقة) is better.



Img. 4:
Tweet encouraging the creation of a key hashtag in the campaign against Dima Sadek and her daughter


Img. 5: Tweet referring to recurring hashtag against Dima Sadek while promoting the new one

 

It is finally worth noting that despite all this, only the original tweet attacking Dima Sadek was removed and no longer accessible. The rest remain accessible through the provided links and continue to put Dima and her loved ones in danger.

 

Hate Speech on Facebook

 

As the Samir Kassir Foundation pursues its role in highlighting the prejudice faced by marginalized groups, alongside the importance of holding training sessions in the pursuit of countering such a discourse, it is crucial to point out that “being marginalized” is also situational. In other words, in the context of elections, in which refugees, migrant workers, and other social groups are not able to vote, it is unambiguously clear that the electoral process, alongside the programs of the vast majority of candidates, in of themselves marginalize refugees affected by the country’s mode of governance.

In this context, refugee camps (in the case of Palestinians and Syrians) still vastly suffer from water pollution and health limitations; both quandaries occur during Ramadan. Regarding the latter issue, unlike the vast majority of the country, the camps still face an active COVID-19 spread affecting the local population. With such a heavy and detrimental reality and given the economic crisis surfacing on the national level, refugees continue to be excluded from the conversation despite the persistent exploitation faced in the past decade. Despite these realities, this report attempts to shed light on the discourse targeting Syrian and Palestinian refugees on Facebook in the context of the significant social, political, and electoral developments occurring.

 

Statistics

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 12: Percentage of problematic comments/posts on the topic per type of page


Figure 13: Distribution of total comments/posts on the topic per type of page


 

Figure 14: Distribution of problematic comments/posts on the topic per type of page


Figure 15: Number of problematic comments/posts on news stations’ Facebook pages


Figure 16: Number of problematic comments/posts on political parties’ Facebook pages



Figure 17: Number of problematic comments/posts on news sites’ Facebook pages


 

Figure 18: Number of problematic comments/posts on newspapers’ Facebook pages

 

Key Insights and Comparative Indicators

When compared to the last Facebook report concerned with refugees, it is unambiguously clear that very few circles of people are indulging in this particular topic, with only 15 relevant comments/posts for this month’s report. This may confirm initial claims of how the election season marginalizes and erases such social groups. Some posts go further to indicate that electoral success may even come at the expense of refugee rights.

 

As the election season forces a conversation about policy priorities, users commenting on the platforms of LF and FPM repeatedly judge the two Christian-majority parties in terms of their performance/stance on the return of Syrian refugees. In other words, sectarian and xenophobic discourse, merged with the economic grievance, is readily mobilized in the context of the election season in the pursuit of gaining votes. In this context, the Facebook platforms of political parties display the most significant number of comments/posts concerned with refugees.

 

The lack of content on the platforms of civil society organizations and/or pro-refugee protection mechanisms also shows the need to take the initiative and amplify inclusive speech. Interestingly, one problematic comment was repeatedly displayed on multiple pages by a user with seemingly little-to-no content on his page profile. One may conclude that this user is a “bot” profile, a tool that has been significantly utilized by electronic armies on several social media platforms, most notably Twitter.

 

Conclusion

 

As emerging media outlets make their mark on the Lebanese media landscape, they have developed remarkable tools to follow the elections and include narratives beyond traditional discourse. With its Election 2022 series, Megaphone informed the reader about the different events during the elections and parodied them satirically, as is the case in its post “Most notable achievement of Amal candidate.” L’Orient-le-Jour and L’Orient Today have developed a section on their website dedicated to the election campaign and results with captivating documentaries and interviews as well as intuitive graphics and statistics. Other media outlets that are not necessarily based in Beirut, such as Anahon, have been particularly creative with their SKF-supported taxi show that aims to interview the candidates while driving around Tripoli. A whole culture of accountability and investigation has also developed in emerging media, as evidenced by Daraj’s SKF-supported series The Count Down, which aims to monitor the biggest violations in the electoral process, or Naqd Politics’ series Don’t Fool Us, that analyzes different political arguments.

 

This new approach to news media is not without consequences, and the work of journalists is becoming increasingly complicated and dangerous. This month the Samir Kassir Foundation monitored the detention of Hanin Haidar by members of the Bint Jbeil municipality. At the same time, foreign journalists are also subject to intimidation, such as Nada Homsi, who, after being arbitrarily arrested on November 16, 2021, on false charges, was again detained at Beirut airport. Finally, the online campaign followed in this report against journalist and TV host Dima Sadek and her daughter with Joubert Syndrome by FPM supporters also shows how intense the attack on journalists can be and how much their lives are put at risk by the disclosure of private information.

 

At the same time, the traditional parties still use marginalized communities to disclaim responsibility for the crisis they are responsible for. During the ministerial committee meeting to discuss the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, chaired by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, political leaders expressed their concern about Syrian refugees, stating that the country can no longer tolerate some of their actions. For example, Lebanese Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram spoke of the high crime rate to which, according to him, Syrian refugees have contributed and warned that Lebanon could enforce laws sending criminals back to their country. They also talked about how Syrian refugees have contributed to the general collapse of the country without mentioning at any point the endemic corruption of the political class and the latter’s mismanagement of the country’s economic and financial policies.

Share News