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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Two-Year Monitoring of Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media and Social Media

Monday , 20 March 2023
Design: Mahmoud Younis

It is customary to distance and dissociate ourselves from hate, a sentiment widely perceived as negative, denounced by religions and moral philosophies and global social norms. However, hate is not merely a sentiment, or more precisely, its most dangerous form is not, but is rather a thought process and a political tool. And it is in the political sphere where hate becomes disruptive of every aspect of human connection and metastasizes to the point where disaster and tragedy become its inevitable result. Hate in politics is absolute, merciless and does not negotiate. Political discourse that is built on the hateful perception of a certain group or idea oftentimes becomes too powerful to contain once it possesses the collective mindset of a certain population or group of people. What is equally disturbing is its power to transform individuals into hate-mongering machines and to use this collective influence to set the stage for violence. This discourse is hate speech. It is global, widespread, and dangerous. It should not go unnoticed and it should be flagged and combatted with every available resource. History, near and far, bears witness to the catastrophic impact of hate speech on populations of all denominations.

Hate speech requires a medium to grow. Similarly to other narratives, it flourishes, gains a wider audience and becomes unapologetic when it is mainstreamed, and the fine line that separates it from free speech becomes purposefully blurred. The media is the ideal platform to mainstream hate speech and the more established and institutionalised the media is, the more it contributes to whitewashing hate speech. While for many, it is self-evident and a “no-brainer” that hate speech is the kind of narrative that respectable media should not associate itself with, the reality speaks a different tone. Hate speech is not a taboo, as it should be. It is not even a topic of debate. There are no flags raised nor alarms sounded when a guest slips up, or intentionally makes a hateful comment against a group of people. In this sense, the media in Lebanon is home to a growing and systematic politics of hate speech. In talk shows and interviews, the media often provides airtime and audience to personalities that are famous for injecting hate speech, and watches in silence as they infect the collective consciousness of a nation. On the other hand, social media has grown in penetration to the point where it has become an attractive platform for systematic hate speech campaigns.

In Lebanon, hate speech is increasingly becoming a systematic approach to influencing public opinion and its perception of people, groups and politics. Several incidents of violence in recent years demonstrate the link between hate speech campaigns and political assassinations, for example. In September 2021, the Samir Kassir Foundation (SKF) published a study about the hate networks that surrounded Lebanese writer, researcher and political activist Lokman Slim before his assassination. The study zoomed in on the Twitter landscape in the period around his assassination and collected concrete digital evidence of the existence of elaborate hate networks that targeted him until after his death; the intent was obvious, and the hate was organized.

Combatting “organized” hate requires a better understanding of how it is organized and a mapping of its key drivers, targets and operators. This implies that long-term listening to a wide range of platforms and an even wider range of circulation points is required. In December 2020,  SKF embarked on a two-year effort to take a closer look at hate speech campaigns, the circumstances that surround the them, their targets, sympathizers, perpetrators and the patterns that these campaigns take. This effort focused on three major media platforms: television, Facebook and Twitter. A tailored methodology was developed for each of the platforms and a separate study was conducted, in consultation with the Media Diversity Institute. This report focuses on the key lessons learned out the research from all three platforms. Each section of this report covers one platform and contains an overview of the landscape as it pertains to that platform, the specific methodology used in the research, and the findings. The study is part of a larger project titled “Inclusive Media, Cohesive Society” (IMeCS), which aims at sensitising the media against hate speech, building the capacity of independent media outlets and expanding the coverage of news media to include marginalised groups.

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