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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

The Latest Iteration of the Anti-Refugee Campaign on Twitter: Preliminary Findings

Wednesday , 03 August 2022

Monitoring data


With the exacerbation of the different crises that the country has been going through, anti-refugee sentiment has been on the rise in Lebanon over the past few months. Several parties have been pointing fingers at Syrian and Palestinian refugees in particular; and sometime around July 27, 2022, a hashtag was propagated “#ارضنا_مش_للنازح_السوري” (our land is not for the displaced Syrian). The Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) monitored the online discussions using this hashtag, as they took place, over the course of the week, until July 30. In total, 74 top tweets were monitored and assessed to better understand the online public’s stance concerning refugees in Lebanon and the potential prevalence of hate speech and inciteful content.


Figure 1. Language of Tweets


Figure 2. Gender of Author


Figure 3. Political Affiliation of Author


Figure 4. Gender of Target


Figure 5. Sentiment Analysis


Figure 6. Engagement Metrics


Key insights

 

The overwhelming majority of tweets were in Arabic (95%; 71 tweets), while only 5% (4 tweets) were in English. Similarly, more than half the authors were male (53%; 39 accounts), while 39% were female (29 accounts). The gender of 8% of the accounts (6 accounts) was unidentifiable. In addition, the political affiliation of 67% of the accounts (50 accounts) was unidentifiable. However, among the recognizable accounts, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporters were the most prolific authors (31%; 22 accounts), followed by two Hezbollah supporting accounts (2%). When taking a deeper look at the anti-refugee campaign, evidence strongly suggests that FPM supporters were behind it.


Most of the posts were generic and did not target one specific person of any gender, but rather the topic of refugees as a whole. On that note, the sentiment analysis showed preliminary results that call for some initial optimism, as 57% of the posts were labelled as “positive.” This means that they support a human rights-based approach towards Syrian refugee presence in Lebanon or posted counter-rhetoric against the “negative” posts. The latter was a label SKF placed on any tweet actively participating in the anti-refugee campaign and propagating the sentiment. However, this is not enough to build a final consensus around “popularity” in this online debate, especially in terms of social media numbers.


Indeed, when looking at the metrics in Figure 6, it becomes clearer that despite the simple majority of positive tweets above, it is the negative tweets that dominated in engagement. The 42 positive tweets received a total of 341 likes and 412 retweets. However, the 32 negative tweets displayed an astronomically higher number of likes (2,595 likes), while still closely following the positive counterparts in terms of retweets (399 retweets). Even the number of replies following negative content was higher, however, that could go either way, considering the controversial nature of the topic at hand. Certain replies could fall into the positive sphere. Therefore, what makes likes and retweets such important metrics is that they are pure indicators of approval.


There are several accounts suspected of instigating the hashtag or at the very least found to have a strong influence in its dissemination. In Img. 1, 2, and 3 below, the tweets of one of the leading accounts will be displayed and examined in further details.

Img. 1


In Img. 1, the author, a prominent FPM supporter, says that Lebanon cannot handle another “human explosive” that could be ignited at any moment. He adds that Syrian refugees must return to so-called “safe zones” as soon as possible.



Img. 2


In Img. 2, he criticizes the Lebanese waiting for the UN to release a statement where it promises to restore money stolen by the banks. He writes that instead of doing so, the UN’s statement emphasized the importance of allowing the refugees in Lebanon, without doing them any harm. In this tweet, he hints that the UN is working against Lebanon and that refugees are national enemies who deserve to be harmed.



Img. 3


Finally, in Img. 3, the same author sarcastically makes fun of being called racist for his stance. He supports his views by stating that there are 2 million Syrian refugees, 10% of whom are “trained to use weapons.” He adds that a boat recently docked and distributed weapons to the refugees and, recalling the Arsal clashes, sarcastically warned that “it’s okay if another 200 Lebanese soldiers would lose their lives.” He jokingly stated that whoever has a problem with this is racist, in an attempt to satirically imitate and discredit anti-racism activists.

 

Fighting back: Tweets countering hateful discourse

 

In light of the violent campaign against Syrian refugees and their basic socio-economic and human rights, alongside the hateful comments on Twitter targeting their presence in the country, it also clear that a “counter-discourse” was also demonstrated by users adopting the same problematic hashtag under study. Several key indicators can be extracted from our monitoring of the “positive/inclusive material” tackling refugees in Lebanon. Two initial observations were made: The tweets’ gender distribution is almost equal (men: 21, women: 19). In addition, while the tweets were posted by a variety of users, a few relatively active users made up a significant portion of the content produced (suggesting an active involvement amongst committed users). 


Meanwhile, in terms of the content itself, there are several “types” of users who are worth noting in this brief observation, further allowing us to understand the perspective by which the tweets were published. While these categories of tweets are by no means exhaustive, they do form a vastly significant portion of the sample under study.


First and foremost, there are tweets written by Syrians themselves, whom are the direct victims of the campaign. From the profiles of these users, it is also clear that nearly all of them are already influencers, activists, and/or journalists, suggesting that the “Syrian response” to hate campaigns is put forth by a specific subset of people. One may hypothesize that a vast majority of the rest of the Syrian population residing in Lebanon remains hesitant to speak up due to fear of reprisal. 

 

Img. 4


Img. 5

 

On the other hand, we have also observed tweets by Lebanese citizens in defense of Syrian refugees against such problematic speech. While some users very simply expressed their opposition to racism in the absolute sense, others added layers to the issue. Some particularly problematized Hezbollah’s presence in Syria in defense of the Syrian regime as one of the reasons why there are refugees in Lebanon in the first place, further suggesting that those espousing a racist discourse ought to oppose Hezbollah’s military actions instead, as shown in Img. 6 below.


Img. 6

 

Finally, other users tackled this matter by rebuking economic claims pertaining to refugee presence, reassigning responsibility back to the Lebanese authorities, or simply suggesting that there are particular jobs which Syrians have performed and that most Lebanese simply prefer not to undertake, as shown in Img. 7 below.


Img. 7

 

Conclusion

 

Even though the number positive tweets was higher, it remains a simple majority at best and continues to warrant concern, as a significant portion of the posts was anti-refugee. Furthermore, the number of tweets taking one side or the other is not sufficient to determine which side garnered the greater amount of support online. Other factors such as engagement metrics are essential in painting a clearer picture of online discussions and this was shown with negative tweets leading by a large margin.


A deeper look into the negative tweets shows their focus on refugees as a burden, an enormous factor in the economic and social crises, and most dangerously, an enemy for the Lebanese to be wary of. Some accounts also made several inaccurate claims such as Syria being safe for refugees to return. On the other hand, positive tweets strongly condemned the previous viewpoints. They emphasized that the Lebanese should hold themselves and their leaders accountable for the current situation, first and foremost. In addition, Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad was frequently mentioned as a cause for the migration crisis. It is finally worth noting that neutral tweets were nowhere to be found, demonstrating just how polarizing this topic can be in Lebanon.

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