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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Social Media Reaction to SKeyes’ Violation Monitoring: Legal Action against Journalist Riad Tawk

Friday , 02 February 2024

Case Study No.13: Judge Sabbouh Sulaiman’s defamation lawsuit against investigative journalist Riad Tawk


The Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) examines a monthly case of freedom of expression violation in Lebanon, analyzing the ensuing reactions on its social media platforms. The primary goal is to gauge our social media audience’s perception of our reporting and assess the overall level of support for freedom of expression in Lebanon.


Our study employs a framework that delves into social media contributors’ stances towards the victim of the violation, the prevalence of hate speech, the discernible political affiliations of the audience, and also incorporates a gender perspective where relevant.

On January 18, 2024, Thursday, Judge Sabbouh Sulaiman filed a personal complaint with the General Prosecution against journalist Riad Tawk, accusing him of “defamation, slander, and libel.” Judge Sulaiman urged for Tawk’s apprehension, interrogation, referral to the appropriate court for trial, and a monetary compensation of $200,000 for damages. This legal action was prompted by a video on the “Beirut Time” platform in which Tawk criticized Sulaiman’s decision to suspend the arrest warrant against former minister Youssef Fenianos and MP Ali Hassan Khalil in the Beirut port explosion case.

According to the “Janoubia” website, Judge Sulaiman submitted a petition to the interim relief judge, seeking to prevent Tawk from disseminating any documents he had previously “threatened” to release, specifically targeting Judge Sulaiman.

The General Prosecutor, Judge Ghassan Oweidat, forwarded the complaint to the Central Criminal Investigations Department, initiating an investigation and summoning Tawk for a hearing as a preliminary step toward potential legal proceedings.

On January 20, SKF’s SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom reported on this incident through its website and Facebook account. This report examines all comments received on the Facebook post during the seven days following its publication, excluding those deemed irrelevant to our research focus. This narrowed the dataset to 201 relevant comments. The results of the analysis are presented below.


After examining our dataset, the analysis revealed that 70.1% (141) of interacting comments exhibited solidarity with the violation victim, expressing sympathetic attitudes towards press freedom. Concurrently, they voiced disappointment in the judiciary system, particularly its perceived historical collaboration with the political class. In contrast, 24.9% (50) of engaged comments expressed support for the judge, primarily due to their distrust of the Lebanese press. They believed that the media lacked transparency regarding its funding sources, potentially promoting specific political agendas. The remaining 5% (10) maintained a neutral stance.



Among the 201 analyzed comments, 3.5% (7) included hate speech, while a significant majority, 96.5% (194), were devoid of any hate speech.

In contrast to numerous prior monitoring cases, this particular instance did not witness substantial surges of hate and incitement. A majority of the contributors (162 out of 201) refrained from explicitly disclosing their political affiliations, even though many resonated with certain discourses associated with the parties mentioned below.


Among the identified political affiliations, 16 users, aligning with Hezbollah (7), the Syrian Socialist National Party (1), and the Free Patriotic Movement (8), were the sole individuals who clearly expressed political affiliations, taking stances against the victim of the violation. Remarkably, only two individuals within this category resorted to using hateful comments to convey their opinions, both belonging to the Free Patriotic Movement.


On the contrary, 17 users, 13 of whom associated with the Lebanese Forces and four with the Lebanese Phalangist Party, showed solidarity with Riad Tawk. Additionally, one user each from the Progressive Socialist Party, the Future Movement, Tahalof Watani, and – surprisingly – Amal Movement also expressed solidarity. Finally, one user each from the Free Patriotic Movement and Amal Movement adopted a neutral stance. It's noteworthy that the two relatively positive interactions from Amal Movement users may not signify a significant trend but could indicate rational interactions promoted by traditional party supporters when not fueled by a systematic mobilization for a certain goal.

Out of the 201 analyzed comments, 69.2% (139) were written by male contributors, and 30.8% (62) by female contributors. Notably, 74% of the comments that expressed opposition to the victim of the violation were from male contributors, and 85.7% of the comments employing hateful content were also from men.



Our findings indicate a notable decline in the occurrence of hate speech. This could be possibly attributed to the fact that the recent violation was not associated with political parties known for engaging in hate speech online. Additionally, there was a remarkably high level of solidarity with the victim of the violation, likely stemming from the journalist’s focus on topics such as the port explosion and nepotistic transfer of bank deposits, which are issues that resonate strongly with various segments of the Lebanese public.

It is noteworthy that the Riad Tawk’s narrative faced minimal opposition, except for a press statement from Judge Sabbouh Sulaiman’s extended family members, which failed to gain substantial traction. The family’s statement was echoed by some of the interacting users who did not display a clear visible political affiliation but supported the judge. After further research,it turned out that a significant number of these users were close to Judge Sabbouh’s family members. As a result, the issue did not ignite intense political polarization, possibly due to factors that are not related to the political severity of this violation. This observation aligns with our earlier analyses of freedom of speech and journalism violations, revealing a recurring pattern where political polarization tends to be strategically orchestrated when deemed necessary by a particular party. This often involves generating controversy around less impactful topics, such as comedy shows, diverting attention from the more impactful issues addressed in the current situation.

In light of these trends, the Samir Kassir Foundation emphasizes the importance of vigilance against data manipulation tactics. Major political parties spread hate speech and anti-liberty discourse to construct a polarizing scapegoat when they seek to maintain or regain control.

This report is published with the support of:

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