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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media - September 2021 Monitoring Report

Thursday , 11 November 2021



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 eighth 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.

This September, several indicators point to a worsening of the economic and financial crisis that affects all levels of society at different scales. While the Lebanon Central Administration of Statistics recorded an increase in the consumer price index rose 137.8% from a year earlier in August, compared with 123.4% in July, a study conducted by Bloomberg concluded that Lebanon now had the highest inflation rate in the world, surpassing Zimbabwe and Venezuela. Coupled with the devaluation of the Lebanese pound by 90% since the beginning of the crisis, the purchasing power of the Lebanese has been drastically reduced to the point that a large part of the population no longer has access to basic necessities. In its policy brief, “Multidimensional poverty in Lebanon: Painful reality and uncertain prospects,” the ESCWA noted that the multidimensional poverty rate of the population of Lebanon increased from 42% to 82% between 2019 and 2021.

Faced with an inadequate response from the Lebanese authorities to the crisis, the population is not only becoming more dependent on the various political parties’ support, but the whole country is also becoming more dependent on regional actors. It is thus not surprising to see a Lebanese delegation posing under a picture of Bashar Al-Assad in order to obtain Syria’s agreement to deliver Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity. Nor is it surprising to see convoys of tanks carrying Iranian diesel welcomed into Lebanon with Iranian flags and banners proclaiming “Thank you, Al-Assad’s Syria.” This communal withdrawal, which manifests itself as support for an outside power, continues to fracture the country on several levels and is a vector for hate speech and discriminatory policy. The deportation of several Syrians, despite the Amnesty International report “You are going to your death,” which concluded that “no part of Syria is safe to return to,” did not trigger any media outrage and was even celebrated in some cases. As such, Lebanese parties such as the Lebanese Forces or the Kataeb often scapegoat refugees and migrants through ultranationalism and xenophobia discourse while denying their vulnerable status as minorities.           

Therefore, the multifaceted crisis in Lebanon is a vector for two movements that feed each other and systematize hate speech discourse in the media. Firstly, the economic crisis implies a dynamic of survival in which society has fewer and fewer resources to concern itself with minorities - who find themselves de facto less represented. To this trend, we must add that the traditional entities convey stigmatizing discourses to bear the blame of the crisis on a particular group. These two dynamics in the media sphere create a climate of division and continue to feed the stigma between communities that could eventually lead to violent clashes between them.


The methods used to locate, collect, and analyze the data pursued in this study entail 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 per month, i.e., migrant workers in August 2021. 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 into 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-time talk shows on seven Lebanese channels in the period from September 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 905 items monitored during this period were entered in a database, where five 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

On the second week of the month, i.e., from September 8 to 12, 2021, 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.

While this report covers the period between September 8 to 12, 2021 (dates included), some of the literature below may include updates from the following days (September 13 to 14, 2021) to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.

Due to unforeseen technical issues and payment delays related to Lebanon’s banking sector, the tool was out of service for the months of September and October. We were able to collect the tweets for those months, but the trends were no longer available by the time the software was up and running again. Therefore, this report will not show any of the trending hashtags we sometimes included in past reports.

Despite the limits of finding generalizable patterns across this study, particularly as it only spans a week, we have concentrated on keeping count of accessible posts and comments mentioning the LGBTQ+ community in a variety of ways on several platforms related to political parties, newspapers, news stations, news sites, and civil society organizations, in particular posts containing problematic, exclusive, or bigoted speech. Although ways in which such speech is defined may vary (“physical incitement” or “plain prejudiced reporting”), a flexible umbrella constituting irresponsible reporting, exaggerations, generalizations, incitement, and exclusivity will be highlighted in this study.

In total, 37 pages were examined via the Facebook search engine too; approximately 1870 reachable posts and comments tackled the community, and around 1853 of them constituted problematic speech. The following keywords were used to locate the posts under study:

• المثليين
• المثلية
• مثليين
• مثلي
• سحاقية
• لوطي
• شاذ
• “Loute”/”Louti”/”Lout”

As for the time interval in which this information was collected, it strictly included posts and comments made from September 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 bulletins and the content of prime-time talk shows during the monitoring period of seven Lebanese channels: Al-Manar, OTV, NBN, LBCI, MTV, Al Jadeed, and Télé Liban (TL), were divided into two categories:

Political topics: U.S. Senator Chris Murphy led a Congressional delegation visit to Lebanon and met with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, Lebanese Armed Forces Commander General Joseph Aoun, and other political and civil society representatives, to pressure the Lebanese politicians to form a Cabinet amid the worsening economic crisis.

President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati are still working to resolve differences over proposed candidates for the Justice, Interior, and Foreign Affairs ministries and end the political stalemate.

After the first high-level visit from Beirut to Damascus since the Syrian civil war erupted, Syria has agreed to help crisis-hit Lebanon by letting gas and electricity transit through its territory.

Financial, economic, and livelihood topics: Lebanon’s financial meltdown has swiftly worsened. The country is crippled by fuel shortages that have ignited country-wide security incidents taking an increasingly sectarian turn (Maghdouche incident). Meanwhile, the education sector has been hard-hit by the financial crisis, as educational institutions struggle to secure fuel for buses, electricity for their classes and teachers to make up for the ones who emigrated.

As a result of the above, topics related to marginalized groups (women/gender equality, people with disabilities, LGBT community, refugees/IDPs, and other marginalized groups) decreased this month, indicating that these groups were overlooked in the Lebanese media.

During the monitoring period:

The news bulletins recorded 905 stories, where five stories related to marginalized groups were identified, as shown in figure 1:

• Three stories about refugees/IDPs: Lebanese President Michel Aoun met with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy at the Baabda Presidential Palace. Responding to Murphy's questions, Aoun explained the reflection of the accumulation of events on the country, starting with the Syrian war and its economic and humanitarian repercussions, with the displacement of one million and 850 thousand, to the Beirut port explosion (OTV). The second and the third story shed light on a report entitled “You’re going to your death,” issued by Amnesty International, about the number of Syrian refugees who returned home and were subjected to detention, disappearance, and torture at the hands of Syrian security forces, proving that it is still not safe to return to any part of the country. (TL, MTV).

• Two stories about people with disabilities: The first story is about a child who suffers from Cerebral palsy and the difficulties in securing his medication in light of the economic uncertainty (Al Manar). The second story is about Lebanon’s only school for autistic children closing its doors as part of Lebanon’s freefall (LBCI).

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 14 topics, as two prime time talk shows were not aired (preparing for a new season). None of these topics were identified as related to marginalized groups, as shown in figure 3. The main topics of discussion in the programs tackled U.S. Senator Chris Murphy’s visit to Lebanon in light of the efforts to form a new Cabinet, the compounded crises of gas shortages, power cuts, and the currency devaluation, and its impact on the education sector.

Five prime time talk shows were monitored: And now what (New), Twenty 30 (LBCI), Lebanon Today (TL), Today’s Discussion (OTV) and Talk of the hour (Al-Manar).

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 of story types in prime talk shows and news bulletins

It is worth mentioning that stories on women/gender equality and 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 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 political violence, bullying, and harassment dominating the public debate, Twitter unravels the daily anxieties attitudes of the population’s response. This report covers the period between September 8 to 12, 2021 (dates included); some of the literature below may include updates from the following days: September 13 to 14, 2021, to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trend.

Due to unforeseen technical issues and payment delays related to Lebanon’s banking sector, the tool was out of service for the months of September and October. We were able to collect the tweets for those months, but the trends were no longer available by the time the software was up and running again. Therefore, this report will not show any of the trending hashtags we sometimes included in past reports.

Hashtags and statistics

Figure 6: Language of tweets

Figure 7: Gender of hate speech source

Figure 8: Political affiliation of hate speech source

Figure 9: Gender of hate speech victim

Figure 10: Types of marginalized groups

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

Figure 11: Problematic tweets within trending timeframe

Key insights
Following the tumultuous events of the previous month, September proved to be no less fascinating. On September 10, a new government was finally formed, and a cabinet was agreed upon. However, the problems plaguing the country were far from over. Between the fuel shortages, the economic crisis, and the unstable security situation, the Lebanese population was clearly on edge, and Twitter seemed to be just the place to vent this frustration. In line with the trends of the previous months, Hezbollah supporters maintained attacks against journalists, media, and anyone who criticizes the party online. Img. 1 below shows a prime example of a highly implicit threat that would likely go undetected using social media algorithms. In it, the author claims that Hezbollah has many surprises and would likely force everyone to wake up in the middle of the night to sing its anthem. It has many implications given the party’s history and strategy of violently and oppressively silencing opposition.

Img. 1: tweet stating that Hezbollah has many surprises and will force everyone to wake up in the middle of the night to sing its anthem.


Other parties, especially the Lebanese Forces (LF) or Kataeb, are often eager to blame refugees and migrants while dismissing issues that pertain to them as vulnerable minorities residing in Lebanon. If one digs deep enough, this discourse is often supplemented by ultranationalism and xenophobia.

Furthermore, while not within the selected monitoring period, it is worth noting that later in the month, student elections took place in USJ, and supporters of Christian parties such as Kataeb and the Lebanese Forces spared no effort in arguments with the Secular Club movements across the country. The supporters accused them of only siding with the country’s Muslims when the clubs posted to commemorate the Sabra and Shatila massacres of Palestinians. They were also accused of dishonest communists or labeling them as supporters of Hezbollah. An example can be seen in Img. 2 below; however, the link is no longer available, and all quote tweets were hidden. (Link to original tweet here). This is particularly meaningful as it brings back a discourse adopted during the civil war, where Muslims around the country were branded as de facto supporters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Similar atrocities were committed against the Christians. As a result, countless innocents were murdered, with different sides eager to kill off “the other.” The discourse propagated in the tweets reminds us of how simple yet dangerous hasty generalization can be.

Img. 2: tweet painting the AUB Secular Club as Hezbollah supporters for commemorating the massacre of the Palestinians.


The LGBTQ+ community got its share of attacks for one reason or another, though often indirectly. In Img. 3 below, while the author’s insults were directed at BDL Governor Riad Salameh, he called Salameh a “son of a homosexual” (though the word used was a derogatory term in Arabic). In addition to the plethora of other insults, he notably called him a “son of a whore”, which also counts as a form of slut-shaming. On that note, women were the most targeted minority once again, as seen in Img. 4 below, where a woman was criticizing how previous women in governance were judged based on misogynistic standards. A man responded, asking her to “go to the kitchen and make him some coffee.” This also undermines women’s role in society and their capacities, and the importance of housework, regardless of who gets it done in the household.

Img. 3: tweet stating calling BDL Governor Riad Salameh a “son of a whore” and a “son of a homosexual” as insults.

Img. 4: tweet of a man asking a woman to go to the kitchen and make him some coffee, as if this is all she is fit for in society.


If there is one thing to learn from this month, every side seems to have a scapegoat to blame when necessary. It deflects responsibility while escaping accountability. This also allows Lebanon’s traditional political parties to maintain their supporter base and unity by creating a common enemy. One that, conveniently for them, often cannot even fight back. Another main issue to highlight this month is how such rhetoric has become normalized in Lebanese society. A portion of the monitored tweets was not necessarily targeting a minority but used problematic rhetoric that would be harmful to said minority (such as LGBTQ+).

Hate Speech on Facebook

The status of the LGBTQ+ community in Lebanon centers on the idea of constrained and restricted spaces, particularly as the number of safe spaces which previously flourished in Beirut has shrunk in the past year. According to a study by Oxfam, the vast majority of the community’s members (70%) are unemployed, leaving them dependent on their relatives and humanitarian aid. Similar reports by HRW, Reuters, and Al-Arab also stress on the idea of limited space as an implication of the economic crisis in the country and following the August 4 Beirut blast, which ended up destroying large sections of regions that hosted safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community (particularly around Mar Mikael and Gemmayzeh).


While the recent cabinet format headed by Nagib Mikati opens questions about the possibilities to recover from the crisis following potential talks with the IMF, the economic situation has continued to impose pressures on the community. In addition, it has further faced restrictions on the digital level, in which the dating application Grindr was banned in the country. Another notable example of the limited digital space is a hate campaign targeting an activist community member on Twitter in the past few days. Partisans affiliated with Lebanon's right-wing Christian-majority parties targeted the activist with homophobic slurs following his criticisms of their policies.


This reality further confirms some hypotheses and claims in our previous studies: slurs targeting the LGBTQ+ community come about following any contested political discussion, reinforcing the heteronormative and masculine function of political work in the country. This month’s study will delve further into these claims, potentially locating more patterns tackling the community on Facebook in particular.


In order to summarize and visualize the data garnered, some charts and figures are found below. It is crucial to consider 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 that may reinforce bias. 

Figure 12: Total number of problematic comments/posts v. Type of page

Figure 13: Number of problematic posts/comments on news stations’ Facebook pages

Figure 14: Number of problematic posts/comments on news sites’ Facebook pages

Figure 15: Number of problematic posts/comments on political parties’ Facebook pages

Figure 16: Percentage of problematic posts/comments across types of pages

Comparative indicators and insight

When observing the data directly, two clear indicators stand out: the Facebook pages of traditional newspapers demonstrate no content about the community. One can contemplate two hypotheses to explain this: (1) the general readership of these newspapers on social media has been in decline, further affecting user engagement on all issues, including those related to the LGBTQ community, (2) with socio-economic and political developments climaxing in the country, such papers have drifted away from social issues perceived as “not so pertinent” to the crisis taking place.


Moreover, similar to prior reports, the Facebook pages of political parties, alongside news showcasing political developments pertaining to particular figures, contained some examples of homophobic content targeting politicians they contest and disagree with. According to such comments, being part of the LGBTQ+ community henceforth entails that such political figures are incompetent or incapable of governing the country.


On the other hand, an interesting and more explicit showcase of homophobia and bigotry towards the LGBTQ+ community was portrayed on MTV’s Facebook page, further increasing the number of problematic posts/comments on the pages of TV news stations to the thousands. The post announced the death of the husband of world-renowned American designer Tom Ford, and subsequently, the comments humorized the idea that two men can be married, with many targeting MTV specifically for reporting such an event given the “inappropriate content.” Despite the abundance of hateful and bigoted content demonstrated by the Facebook pages of political parties, news sites, and television stations, particular non-government organizations, specifically in the context of the economic crisis, remain resilient and continue to distribute content humanizing members of the LGBTQ+. One, however, ought to delve further into both the limits and opportunities laid out by such organizations.


In addition to the direct or indirect increase in hate speech linked to the multidimensional crisis in Lebanon, it would also seem that the world of journalism is increasingly under attack from various quarters. In the first instance, it can be a whole media institution targeted, as was the case of the Al-Sharq office, which was stormed by supporters of the Lebanese president days after publishing an altered image of Aoun in pajamas. At the same time, attacks can target specific journalists, such as Yumna Fawaz or the Lebanese investigative journalist Riad Kobeissi. They have been victims of hate campaigns or intimidation by supporters of traditional parties such as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPC) and Hezbollah. In other cases, the attacks may also be against a particular event or topic. It is mainly the case for the investigation into the explosion of 4 August 2020, which is the subject of much controversy from the government. One of the latest events linked to that trend was the attack on journalists and the families of the victims of the Beirut explosion during a demonstration against the holding of a parliamentary session. Without any pressure from civil society, the media, or the international community on these types of attacks, the press’s intimidation system is accepted in Lebanon. In the worst case, if nothing is done, this system of intimidation can lead to threats and even the assassination of journalists. In its study of the hate network surrounding the murder of Lokman Slim, the Samir Kassir Foundation showed how Twitter accounts associated with the hate network maintained hate speech against the journalist.


Beyond a symbolic attack, attacking the freedom of the press is a reflection of a society whose individuals are less and less tolerant of diversity and pluralism of opinions. It also implicitly shows how some traditional entities are trying to block the journalistic work that could damage their image or expose them in corruption cases. At the same time, it should be recalled that the crisis is strongly affecting the alternative media, which has fewer resources to provide a counter-discourse to the established power. The many issues at stake discussed during the Round table on « Les médias libanais face aux crises : et maintenant, où va-t-on? » remain relevant in a Lebanese crisis that is becoming more and more severe. Nevertheless, this situation can also be an opportunity for the media in Lebanon to reinvent their economic base and the values they wish to promote. In this context of crisis, the media must reflect the new expectations and aspirations of the population. Therefore, it would not be surprising, despite the attacks on the press, to see a media landscape shaped by more investigation, criticism, and accountability.

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