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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Online Hate and the Fragility of Lebanon's Social Fabric

Monday , 13 May 2024
Design: Marc Rechdane

Since 2005, Lebanon has witnessed numerous assassinations with no one held accountable. The escalating division and polarization within the country have spilled over the online sphere, where, within minutes of any security incident, X (formerly Twitter) becomes inundated with hate speech and disinformation. These toxic narratives poison the online discourse, exacerbating divisions and animosity. From X, the narratives permeate other social platforms as well as television broadcast and eventually seep, offline, into the minds of readers, further atomizing them into opposing camps.

In most cases, two antagonistic directions emerge: anti-Hezbollah and anti-Lebanese Forces. Rather than promoting ideas, these online groups exist in the virtual space solely to combat each other.

On April 7, 2024, around 19:05, Pascal Sleiman, the Lebanese Forces (LF) Jbeil district coordinator, was kidnapped. The news swiftly spread across social media, with both individuals and botnets disseminating their “thoughts” and comments on the incident. Hate speech and disinformation proliferated rapidly in the first 24 hours, mirroring patterns seen in previous incidents.

The primary purveyors of incitement, disinformation, and hate speech are anonymous accounts with a documented history of such activities over the past three years. Despite being flagged by social media analysts, mainstream media, and communication experts as divisive, pro-violence accounts, no concrete actions have been taken to ban them from X or uncover their origins, posing a significant threat to Lebanese national security. Instead, their narratives are often used to justify opposing polarizing rhetoric.

Furthermore, while a quick analysis of these anonymous accounts reveals their political affiliations, their true identities remain uncertain. It is unclear whether they genuinely are who they claim to be and espouse the beliefs they spread or whether they adopt personas and affiliations to fuel opposing rhetoric.

Through an examination of the online discourse surrounding Pascal Sleiman’s kidnapping and killing, our objectives are threefold:

1. To chronologically uncover the divisive narratives and disinformation spread on X, analyzing their ripple effects and offline reactions in a country confronted with regional war and heightened polarization.

2. To establish the patterns, sources, and networks disseminating these narratives.

3. To advocate with Lebanese Authorities and X to contain the harm of these networks from the platform and hold them accountable under Lebanese law.

This report was authored by Ralph Baydoun, CEO of InflueAnswers, with the support of the Samir Kassir Foundation, as part of the latter's Inclusive Media, Cohesive Society (IMeCS) program.

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