SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Hate Speech in the Lebanese Media - February 2021 Monitoring Report

Saturday , 27 March 2021

“It’s Called a Crime”

 

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.

The political and security situation in the country remains turbulent to a large extent, particularly with the cabinet deadlock which is still underway due to fundamental differences around the rules of power-sharing following several failed experiments. This is amplified by the political obfuscation pursued regarding the fate of the Beirut port blast of August 4. Finally, an easing lockdown and slow vaccine rollout have also occupied citizens’ minds as they grow increasingly desperate to exit the health crisis.

 

A revived debate around the fate of women’s rights in the country is occasionally overshadowed by the aforementioned developments. Despite this, the subject of women’s rights, or the critique of problematic speech directed towards women, gained national attention following a noticeable rise in domestic violence amid the pandemic. Markedly, a campaign on social media was launched this month, under the title “It’s Called a Crime”. The campaign denounces violent crimes in which husbands have murdered their own wives following marital disagreements. This is accompanied by incidents of rape, harassment, and sexist bullying.

 

This last category has been particularly exemplified by the campaign targeting journalist Dima Sadek following her recent show on MTV. In parallel, state institutions proceeded with their “moral” control of female bodily autonomy as several women were arrested for engaging in sex work. These recurrences demonstrate an overall atmosphere which is hostile towards the cultural and bodily freedom, and safety, of women in the country.


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 February 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 852 items monitored during this period were entered in a database, and only 3 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. The data was obtained, and the monitoring conducted, between February 9 to 12, 2021.

 

Facebook

Despite the complexity of locating generalizable trends across this study, we have limited the method to keeping count of accessible Facebook posts and comments which discuss or tackle women’s rights in any way on a number of pages of political parties, newspapers, news stations, news sites, and civil society organizations, alongside posts which specifically contain problematic, exclusive, or bigoted speech directed towards this month’s topic on all the aforementioned platforms. Although ways 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, 39 pages were examined via the Facebook search engine too; all in all, 45 reachable posts and comments tackled the very concept of women’s rights, autonomy, or subtle descriptions of women, and 32 of them constituted problematic speech. The following keywords were used to locate the posts under study:

  • المحكمة الجعفرية
  • العنف الأسري
  • حقوق المرأة
  • الحضانة
  • شرموطة
  • المرأة الجنسية
  • المرأة
  • “Sharmuta”

 

As for the time interval in which this information was collected, it strictly included posts and comments made between February 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 talk shows during the monitoring period of seven Lebanese channels: Al-Manar, OTV, NBN, LBCI, MTV, Al Jadeed, and Télé Liban were divided into three categories:

 

  • Security: The assassination of the Lebanese political activist and writer Lokman Slim, who openly criticized Hezbollah and was constantly threatened for his activism. This assassination raised the recurring question of why politically motivated assassinations have overwhelmingly gone unpunished, within a country in which impunity is the rule and not the exception.
  • Political: No progress has been made in negotiations between Lebanese political groups to form a new government. Efforts have largely been blocked by political factions.
  • Lockdown and Health: The total lockdown was extended to February 8, as the health sector buckled under the pressure of soaring coronavirus cases. Strict restrictions included a round-the-clock curfew, and limited grocery shopping to home deliveries. Meanwhile, Lebanon is awaiting the arrival of the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

 

As a result of the above, topics related to women/gender equality, people with disabilities, LGBT+ community, refugees/IDPs and other marginalized groups decreased significantly, compared with the January Report, which indicates that these groups were overlooked in the Lebanese media.

 

During the monitoring period:

The news bulletins recorded 852 stories, where 3 stories were identified related to marginalized groups:

 

  • One story about women and gender equality (MTV).
  • Two stories about people with disabilities (NBN).





The prime time talk shows[1] recorded 20 topics, where one of them was identified as related to marginalized groups, as shown below in figure 3 and figure 4. The topic in question was not among the main issues of discussion in the program. Rather, it was mentioned as part of initiatives on human right issues that will be presented weekly in the program entitled It's About Time on MTV. It was about refugees/IDPs.








It is worth mentioning that stories on Refugees/IDPS and LGBT were clearly overlooked in news bulletins that were monitored, while all the marginalized groups except for refugees/IDPs were overlooked in prime time talk shows.


This month no hate speech or problematic content was identified in both 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 broader 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 attitudes of the population’s response. This report covers the period between February 9 to 12 (dates included), some of the literature below includes updates from the holidays and weekend (February 13-14, 2021) to add relevance and gain further insights from the monitored trends.


Hashtags and statistics

Hashtag

Explanation / Meaning

8-Feb-21

#لبنان

Lebanon

#صباح_الخير

Good Morning

#بس_هيك

Just that

9-Feb-21

#ديما_الواطيه

Dima the bitch

#ديما_صادق

Dima Sadek

#حكي_صادق

Haki Sadek

10-Feb-21

#اعلام_الحقاره_بامر_السفاره

The wretched media is at the service of the (US) embassy

11-Feb-21

#ثوره_لبنانيه_ضد_ايران

Lebanese revolution against Iran

#مي_شدياق

May Shidiac

#لو_انا_الزعيم

If I was the zaiim (ruler/leader)

#لبنان

Lebanon

#صباح_الخير

Good Morning

12-Feb-21

#ضاحيه_مستبشره

Dahye is optimistic (southern suburbs of Beirut)

Figure 6. Hashtags February 8-12









Key insights

On February 4, Lokman Slim, a political activist and renowned Hezbollah critic, was found dead in his car after leaving a friend’s house in South Lebanon. Fingers were pointed at Hezbollah as fears emerged of a new wave of politically motivated assassinations, similar to those of 2005 to 2013. The accusations prompted Hezbollah supporters to retaliate on social media. The majority of the problematic tweets and hashtags tagreted journalists/media Hezbollah supporters deemed as biased against their party and “spreading lies” to aid “Lebanon’s enemies.” Key hashtags included (figure 6) “The wretched media is at the service of the (US) embassy” and other Dima Sadek/Haki Sadek hashtags. The attacks were focused on Hezbollah supporters opposing women in journalism, such as Dima Sadek. This came after an episode of her show, Haki Sadek, in which she demanded Hezollah be held accountable for Slim’s assassination, was aired on MTV. Shortly after, MTV and the show’s producers denied having any prior knowledge of Sadek’s intentions or material.

 

The “Lebanese revolution against Iran” hashtag was conceived as a reaction to the above hashtags. However, a Twitter account used the hashtag to spread further harmful sectarian discourse.

 

In Img. 1 below, using the hashtag “if I was the zaiim/ruler”, the author stated that she would burn the “trash” in Lebanon (referring the the personalities in the pictures). In Img. 2, the author of the tweet calls Dima Sadek a “dirty pig”. It is worth noting that the author has around 2,900 followers, and her account often displays tweets which include hate speech.

Img. 1: A tweet singling out TV personalities, including prominent women, for abuse

Img. 2: A tweet hurling abuse at Dima Sadek

 

These developments are especially worrisome considering that reported domestic violence rates in Lebanon have doubled in the past year, according to the Internal Security Forces (ISF), with the latest gruesome muder happening towards the end of January. Zeina Kanjo, a Lebanese model, was strangled by her husband only days after filing for divorce on the basis of domestic violence. While this crime took place prior to the monitored week, it is certainly not divorced from the culture of sexism and outright mysogyny which produces such tweets as those highlighted above. All the hashtags in the table above involved problematic rhetoric of some sort and while 32 problematic tweets were monitored, less than a handful involved outright hate speech. Other marginalized groups were only part of the discussion in a tangential manner. An example would be a tweet that referred to Shiites opposing Hezbollah as homosexuals, thereby using homosexuality as an insult and proliferating the idea that homosexuals are a problem. In other cases, journalists were likened to the mentally disabled, once again primarily by Hezbollah and FPM supporting accounts on Twitter.

 

Hate Speech on Facebook

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

While the Facebook pages of television news stations seem to contain the highest absolute quantity of inflammatory rhetoric, this is primarily rooted in their greater reach and propensity for controversial material of a public nature. Furthermore, the low quantity of hate speech within the newspaper category might seem to suggest that such platforms have become less relevant in the eyes of readers and commenters, as opposed to implying that the editorial hand, among Facebook pages of newspapers, is more stringent.

On the other hand, comparisons on the level of political parties and movements suggest a different scope. The Free Patriotic Movement’s Facebook page was the only one which contained problematic speech. In line with previous research conducted within this series of studies (December 2020), one may hypothesize that the party’s own material acts as an exogenous casual variable influencing and amplifying the propagation of hate speech. 

 

Insights

In the midst of locating the relevant posts and comments, it is increasingly clear that misogynistic speech arises from a variety of factors elaborated below.

1. Political polarization and contestation is expressed by misogynistic and sexist insults directed between men proclaiming ownership over women’s bodies, alongside utilizing these insults to direct slut-shaming comments against the “women of the other side.” In other words, one may suggest that political contestation and argumentation within the country have yet to constitute a feminist culture of protection.

2. Women’s rise in media and politics results in an immediate sexist backlash by male political opponents. This is exemplified via the immense bullying which journalist and commentator Dima Sadek was on the receiving end of, especially for her relatively polarizing views on Hezbollah.

3. Comments addressing causes pertinent to women’s rights – vis-à-vis religious courts and other sensitive matters revolving around personal status laws and domestic violence – were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the autonomy of women, including their custody, divorce, and inheritance rights. However, a marginal reaction consisted of a narrative which suggested that men are losing their “place in society” (Img. 3).



Img. 3: A Facebook comment which reiterates an outdated view of men as being more deserving of job opportunities than women.


Conclusion


In the build up to International Women’s Day (March 8), Lebanon fell short. The murder of Zeina Kanjo by her husband, the online abuse suffered by Dima Sadek and the litany of dismissive and degrading rhetoric directed at women, via social media especially, serve to demonstrate that Lebanese discourse continues to be rife with a dangerous and criminal misogyny. It is a brand of misogyny further propagated by men in positions of power such as Minister of Interior, Mohamed Fehmi, who as recently as November 2020 (prior to the start of this series of reports) made a sexist remark about women’s perceived domestic role. Even the assassination of journalist and intellectual, Lokman Slim, this month, which initially led to a polarized debate on the subject of Hezbollah, eventually resulted in the use of prejudiced, inflammatory and discriminatory language against women.

 

If there is anything that this as yet budding series of reports has demonstrated thus far, it is that words have consequences; more so, that terrible words have terrible consequences. Whether it be the burning of the Syrian refugee camps in North Lebanon or the murder of a young woman at the hands of her own husband, the path to these tragedies is paved with dehumanizing and inflammatory discourse.  

 

Around the early days of March, the murder of Sarah Everard, in the south of London, by a policeman would spark a worldwide conversation about women’s safety and women’s rights. This report would suggest that a conversation is criminally overdue in Lebanon as well.

The crime perpetrated upon Zeina Kanjo, the abuse hurled at Dima Sadek and other instances of misogyny and problematic rhetoric aimed at Lebanese women, and documented in this report, are a far cry from the images of women marching through downtown Beirut to demand an end to sexual harassment and bullying in December 2019. Overall, the month of February can be characterized as one in which the rights-based discourse of the post-October 17 uprising was repressed in favor of an atmosphere of misogyny and geopolitical and sect-based conflict.

 

[1] 7 prime time talk shows monitored: It's About Time (MTV), And Now What (New), Twenty 30 (LBCI), Lebanon Today (TL), Today's Discussion (OTV), Talk of the Hour (Al-Manar) and The Fourth Estate (NBN)

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