SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media - March 2021 Monitoring Report

Monday , 07 June 2021

The Invisibility of Marginalized Communities

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 

 

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.

 

Within the time frame of this study, Lebanon has experienced rapid and continued economic and financial deterioration which served to further impoverish the population. With the cabinet formation stalled indefinitely due to ongoing disagreements between different parties among the ruling class, the country’s currency exchange rate climaxed at 15,000 L.L./USD and then decreased to around 12,000-13,000 L.L./USD at a later stage, which triggered the resumption of anti-government-protests all over the country. 

 

In addition to this unstable political and economic environment, the departure of more than 1,000 doctors, and the shortage of pharmaceutical products made the fight against the coronavirus more difficult, despite the arrival of thousands of vaccine doses. Meanwhile, migrant workers, who were previously not allowed to return to their own countries, are now leaving Lebanon in high numbers. Furthermore, those remaining within the country have mostly experienced salary cuts, recurrent exploitation by employment offices and their employers, as well as repeated scapegoating. As a consequence of this multifaceted crisis, intense sectarian tensions have been exacerbated, providing a fertile ground for hate speech, decreasing representation, and biased depictions of minority groups

 

In this context, International Women’s Day served as a clear reminder that despite the overwhelming support online on the day, hints of problematic rhetoric can still be identified. Even in times of relative stability in Lebanon, women’s rights were still seen as secondary. The ailing state of Lebanese discourse on women’s rights only cements the trend which was highlighted in the SKeyes report of February 2021.

 

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. women. 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 March 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
  •       Télé Liban

 

A total of 815 items monitored during this period were entered in a database, where 10 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 Monday to Friday, 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 containing problematic rhetoric have been displayed.


Simultaneously, any tweets found outside this timeframe displaying such rhetoric will be taken note of and an analysis of the Twitter debate 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 for this study, we look at whether marginalized groups (women, refugees, LGBTQ etc.) are included within the conversation or entirely excluded.


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.

 

Finally, this report covers the period between March 8 to 12, 2021 (dates included) and some of the literature below includes updates from the holidays and weekend (March 13-14, 2021) to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.


Facebook

Despite the complexity of locating generalizable trends across this study, the method we have primarily focused on is keeping count of accessible posts and comments which discuss or tackle migrant workers in any way on a number of pages of political parties, newspapers, news stations, news sites, and civil society organizations, alongside posts which may include problematic, exclusive, or bigoted speech directed towards the migrant workers’ community. Although the attitudes in which such a discourse is delimited 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, 38 pages were examined via the Facebook search engine too; all in all, 22 reachable posts and comments tackled migrant workers and their needs and/or desires, and 13 of them constituted problematic speech. The following keywords were used to locate the posts under study:

عاملة أجنبية

الخدم

فلبينية

سيرلانكية

خادمة

اثيوبية

عاملة منزل

عاملات منزل

صانعة

بنجلادشية


As for the time interval in which this information was collected, it strictly included posts and comments made from March 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


The main topics of 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 are divided into four categories:

  • Economic/financial crisis: Lebanon’s currency continuous deterioration, and the return of road blocks and protests, as the country’s economic collapse continued, while the political leaders have failed to agree on a rescue plan.
  • Political topics: Again, the delay in the formation of the new government amid continued political deadlock, as the political leaders are still divided over the composition of Saad Hariri’s cabinet.
  • Health topics: Authorities in Lebanon further eased COVID-19 restrictions as part of the third phase of a gradual lifting of the country’s lockdown plan, meanwhile the hospitals are still overwhelmed amid a slow vaccination campaign.
  • Pope Francis visit to Iraq.


During the monitoring period we noticed a slight increase in stories related to marginalized groups:


The news bulletins recorded 815 stories, where 10 stories were identified related to marginalized groups as shown below in Figure 1:

  • One story about people with disabilities (TL)
  • Two stories about refugees/displaced people (Al Manar, Al Jadeed), in which one of these stories contained direct problematic content that can lead to hate speech and escalate to aggressive attitude against refugees/displaced people.
  • Three stories about migrant workers (MTV, NBN, OTV). These stories focused on the decline in the numbers of migrant workers in Lebanon due to the deteriorating economic situation and the shortage of dollar that is pushing migrant workers to leave the country.
  • Four stories about women and gender equality (LBCI, MTV, OTV, TL). The increase in the number of stories related to this group is lMMMinked to International Women’s Day.





The prime time talk shows recorded 19 topics, one of them was related to marginalized groups (figure 3), as the main topics of discussion in the programs tackled the continuous delay in the formation of the Lebanese government, and the mutual accusations between political parties blaming one another for this delay, the collapse of the Lebanese pound and Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq. 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.




It is worth mentioning that stories on LGBTQ+ were clearly overlooked for the fourth month in a row in both prime-time talk shows and news bulletins monitored.

 

Hate speech

During the monitored week, one story in the prime-time news bulletin (Al Jadeed) tackling Syrian refugees contained problematic content as illustrated in figure 5; this content can lead to aggressive attitude against refugees/displaced people, while on MTV a guest attacked his female colleague with misogyny and sexist behavior.


1- Al Jadeed:

A report, featured on Al Jadeed, shed light on Syrian deposits locked in Lebanese banks, and on the statement by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in which he estimated that Syrians hold between $20 billion and $42 billion trapped in troubled Lebanese banks. The reporter, however, engaged in somewhat problematic speech towards Syrian refugees. He said: “The Syrian displacement has drained the Lebanese economy during the Syrian war,” he continued, quoting the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, “Syrian refugees cost Lebanon’s economy 40 billion dollars.” Though the Syrian crisis will have undoubtedly impacted an already ailing and fragile Lebanese economy, context is key here. The reporter sought to engage in retaliatory language, framing the Syrian refugees as the root cause of the Lebanese economy’s demise while almost absolving the Lebanese President by passively mimicking the latter’s rhetoric. The Lebanese President’s obvious attempt to shift the blame away from his administration’s own incompetence and towards marginalized communities has been given undue credence.


2- MTV:

The program “It's About Time” hosted resigned independent MP Paula Yacoubian and Free Patriotic Movement MP Hikmat Dib who approached Yacoubian with misogyny and sexist rhetoric, using derogatory comments during a discussion on the power crisis in Lebanon. “Don’t be upset; you’re not beautiful when you’re angry,” Dib said, adding, “I am a true fighter who helped in ensuring the departure of the Syrian troops from the country, but I don’t know, at that period, with whom and on whose lap you were.” However, it is worth noting that the host, Marcel Ghanem, disagreed with Dib, and made his disapproval of such behavior clear to his guest.







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 between March 8 to 12, 2021MMMMM (dates included) and some of the literature below includes updates from the holidays and weekend (March 13-14, 2021) to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.


Hashtags and statistics

Hashtag

Explanation / Meaning

                                                                 8-Mar-21               

#يوم_المراه_العالمي

International Women’s Day

#جل_الديب

Jal El Dib

9-Feb-21

#لهون_وبس

Lahon W Bass (Talk show)

#الناعمة

Anna’amah (roadbloack area)

#الجية

Al Jieh (roadblock area)

10-Feb-21

#قطاع_الطرق_قتلة

Murderous Roadblockers (Protesters)

#الثورة_شماعة_القوات

The revolution is LF’s peg

11-Feb-21

#الثوره_شماعه_القوات

The revolution is LF’s peg

Figure 8. Hashtags March 8-12









Unclear: tweets by ISIS glorifying their operational “achievements”.

Inflammatory rhetoric: sectarian/hate-charged tweets that do not target any marginalized group in particular.



Key insights

The week started with International Women’s Day. Despite an overwhelming number of supportive tweets expressing solidarity with women and the need to continue a fight for equal rights, a number of tweets showcased horrific levels of mysoginy and hatespeech. In Img. 1 below, the author posted a video glorifying violence against women, calling women “femoids” a perjorative, dehumanizing term. Due to the graphic nature of the video, the tweet was later removed. In Img. 2, feminists as well as atheists are likened to donkeys and once again, dehumanized. Img. 3 blatantly wishes death upon every woman as the author considers them “shameful”; it was removed and the account suspended.







However, sexism was not limited to International Women’s Day. On March 10, 2021, Dr. Sandrine Atallah, a well known doctor and consultant in sexual health, appeared on the show "A ghayr kawkab" (On Another Planet) on MTV. She was met with sexist vulgar comments from the host and guests. The only hashtag related to the incident was (#ع_غير_كوكب) (the name of the show itself). While the majority of the tweets were in support of Dr. Atallah, the key problematic tweets came from well-known entertainement figures. An example would be singer Yuri Mrakadi, who made blatantly sexist comments, bordering on harrassment, to Dr. Atallah while on the show. Even after the host made an official apology on Twitter, Mrakadi refused to adopt a more humble approach or acknowledge his mistake, claiming it was “his right express himself freely” as he has an MA degree. This is shown in the tweets below (Img. 4). It is also important to note that the apology issued by the host, Pierre Rabbat, has recently been removed.



On another note, due to the mass protests around the country, the prime hashtags were names of locations indicating where roadblocks occurred. Though this was mainly for logistical, news and traffic control purposes. Tweets encapsulating those hashtags were generally neutral. However, the problematic ones were sometimes linked to (#جل_الديب) “Jal El Dib” as members of the Lebanese Forces (LF) party were present in that area. Such tweets soon developed into problematic hashtags of their own, accusing the Lebanese Forces and other parties of the 14 March coalition of having instigated the protests all over Lebanon, as part of a plan to reignite sectarian tensions. These hashtags include (#قطاع_الطرق_قتله) “Murderous Roadblockers” and (#الثوره_شماعه_القوات) “The revolution is LF’s peg”. In Img. 5 for example, the author is likening the protestors to ISIS militants “without any exceptions”. Img. 6 made a hashtag from the last report resurface (#اعلام_الحقاره_بامر_السفاره) “The wretched media is at the service of the (US) embassy”, attacking the media in general, especially those who speak out against Hezbollah. Img. 7 was not related to Jal El Dib, however it encourages an approach of “an eye for an eye” against protesters blocking roads as it claims they are targeting residents of South Lebanon.







Whatever the reasons behind the much needed reignition of protests in Lebanon, ignoring the significant amount of independent initiatives poured into them and presenting groundless theories as facts is bound to raise tensions on its own. This is particularly an issue when people on the streets are collectively accused of being killers, building a dangerous foundation for inflammatory discourse.

Adding to this, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Elie Ferzli replied to one of his followers asking them to “lick his ass”. The tweet below was removed and Ferzli later claimed his account was hacked, by an apparently petty and vindictive hacker.



In addition, there was a substantial amount of tweets by pro-ISIS accounts using unrelated trending hashtags in an attempt to increase reach and other engagement metrics. As in earlier reports, accounts were posting videos highlighting “achievements” and successful ISIS operations. The tweets have all been removed. Finally, it is also worth noting that marginalized groups such as refugees/migrants, the disabled and LGBTQ+ were not mentioned at all this week, neither in the hashtags nor in the monitored tweets. This is likely because International Women’s Day and the protests took much of the spotlight but it still aligns with a trend which this series of reports has highlighted thus far. Minorities are only spoken of on occasion instead of giving their issues consistent standing.

Hate Speech on Facebook


In order to summarize and visualize the data gathered, a few charts and graphs are presented 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

When analyzing the case of migrant workers on the Facebook pages of such platforms, it is rather clear that, compared to other marginalized social groups, this one is particularly erased from the national conversation, especially when looking at the Facbook pages of official TV and newspapers:

 

  1. Media networks’ unwillingness to cover the dilemma and issues faced by tens of thousands of migrant workers in the country in the context of a deteriorating crisis reemphasizes their positioning as an excluded group in the country, outside the very gaze of conventional Lebanese society.

 

  1. The fleeing trend of migrant workers in the past year and a half has rendered them less significant in number to form a coherent and sizable social group in the country, leading to less rights campaigns and forms of formal social organization to be covered and commented on.

 

Nevertheless, more informal channels (such as the Facebook page ‘This is Lebanon’) continue to demonstrate the hardships of these workers on a recurrent basis given the consistent official media blackout. Moreover, one ought not to misinterpret a media blackout or lack of conversation on this particular issue as less discrimination or micro-violence, given that news sites which have fleetingly tackled migrant workers often contain derogatory comments.

 

These remarks included essentialist tropes linking nationals from Sri Lanka to domestic work as this link is a constant source of scorn used to superficially invalidate the grievances and needs of migrant workers in the midst of the crisis.

 

As displayed in the data, pages of news sites are the most involved in addressing migrant workers; however, this does not take the form of solidarity or shedding light on their hardships. On the contrary, much of these articles take a neutral and rather irrelevant take on the daily struggles of these workers, paving the way for insensitive or inconsiderate comments.

 

Conclusion

 

As highlighted in the past monitoring report of this series, the predominant topic of discussion in the Lebanese media remains the worsening of the multifaceted crisis and its consequences. Even if International Women’s Day (IWD) managed to garner more attention towards women’s issues, this trend faded in time, while sexual harassment, bullying, and online threats still shaped the online discourse. This can be seen, as mentioned, on Twitter which was shaped by inflammatory rhetoric and misogyny as experienced by MP Paula Yacoubian. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that even if TV stories surrounding women increased during IWD, minority-related stories only take up a minimal amount of space which makes it clearer that such issues are either seen as culturally unimportant, unappealing or simply less worthy.

Similarly, migrant workers were not a subject of discussion unless it was related to their return to their home countries in large numbers, due to Lebanon’s worsening overall situation. As seen in the Facebook section, news sites primarily cover the issues related to migrant workers but do not highlight the human struggles, instead showing little to no solidarity. Certain social media pages remain some of the most consistent supporters of specific or multiple minorities. Another example of “occasional activism” can be seen when it comes to the LGBTQ+ issues that did not make an appearance in any media this month either. Other than that, minority rights as an issue remains an occasion-based topic rather than a continuous cultural shift.


Meanwhile, and in direct link to the worsening overall situation in Lebanon, sectarian based discourse remains an integral factor which fuels hate speech in the media. With this in mind, a significant portion of tweets also attacked protesters in Lebanon based on sectarian grounds and spread provocative, emotionally charged content. Here lies part of the problem, it would seem: there is a severe shortage of empathy, coupled with an overflow of anger and resentment which is being channeled towards marginalized communities. The unfortunate reality remains that, with the exception of IWD this month, the rare times in which minorities in Lebanon do recieve any kind of media spotlight, they tend to be met with apathy at best and inflammatory speech at worst.

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