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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

WhatsApp 360: A Look into the WhatsApp News Ecosystem in Lebanon

Source InflueAnswers
Saturday , 07 October 2023
Design: Marc Rechdane

The integration of WhatsApp into our daily lives has revolutionized the way we communicate, stay informed, and connect with others, thus reshaping the landscape of political discourse. While mainstream TV remains the most popular form of mass media in Lebanon, frequent power cuts and the need for up-to-date news have led people to rely more on social media and instant messaging platforms, particularly WhatsApp. This increased reliance has made people more susceptible to the impact of dis- and misinformation from unverified news sources. In fact, a study conducted by the International Committee for the Red Cross in 2023 revealed that Lebanese households prioritize reducing their electricity consumption to ensure uninterrupted cellular data access.

According to a 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center, 84% of Lebanese adults use WhatsApp as a communication tool. The same study also found that in 2019, 52% of Lebanese respondents trusted the information they received from social media more than from local television and newspapers. The October 2019 protest movement exposed the deep distrust in and animosity towards partisan and privately-owned mainstream media that aligned with the agendas of sectarian political parties. As a result, there has been a greater reliance on independent digital media, social media channels and platforms such as Instagram and Twitter, and informal, hyperlocal, newsfocused WhatsApp groups.

Since 2019, Lebanon has faced a series of crises that have attracted significant media coverage. Throughout these events, a substantial amount of dis- and misinformation has circulated, often propagated via WhatsApp. However, one area that has been largely overlooked in Lebanon is a comprehensive study of patterns of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech. This project aims to address this gap by conducting a large-scale, data-centric analysis of these trends across the most popular breaking news-focused WhatsApp groups.

By analyzing public news-oriented WhatsApp groups at a national level, this report seeks to achieve the following objectives:

1. Gain insights into the themes of the conversation and determine whether group agendas perpetuate harmful narratives.

2. Identify patterns of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech by examining news received by a sample of citizens from various regions across the country.

3. Measure the reach and impact of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech achieved through these groups.

Through an examination of the news circulated on public news-oriented WhatsApp groups and its reception by a representative sample of Lebanese residents across all governorates, this analysis aims to identify instances of context-based disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech. By unraveling the underlying motives behind such content and understanding its spread and reach, local and international actors working for a healthier news ecosystem can work towards mitigating its impact and promoting media literacy among the Lebanese population.

This report by InflueAnswers is published with the support of the Samir Kassir Foundation and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

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