Digital democracy International

New Report: Anti-immigrant hate speech, AI solutions, detecting online violence against women and regional strategies

Online disinformation and hate speech are exacerbating political tensions in the MENA region. Our latest report for the WordsMatter project focuses on two collectives impacted by this trend —Sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia facing discrimination and female rights defenders in Jordan confronting online gender-based violence —to draw recommendations for a healthier and more responsible digital landscape across the region.

Furthermore, this final report of the project consolidates the findings from various initiatives, including case studies, AI-driven solutions, regional forums, and thorough research. The key findings based on our social media monitoring highlight the pivotal role of social media in shaping public opinion, not only during elections and civil events but also in influencing attitudes towards minorities and marginalised communities:

  • Tunisia: In the period between February and July 2023, Tunisia witnessed a surge in hate speech, particularly following a speech by President Kais Saied and a violent incident in Sfax involving local residents and migrants. The report's analysis of Facebook posts revealed that 4.35% of posts contained hate speech points targeted at Sub-Saharan African migrants and identified narratives accusing them of attempting to seize control of Tunisia, inciting violence, and involvement in criminal activities. 
  • Jordan: Online gender-based violence has been prevalent in Jordan, notably evident in the targeted online campaign against human rights defender Hala Ahed. The report contextualizes Ahed's case within the background of a shrinking civic space and political strife in Jordan. In response to this violence, our partners, the "Jordan Open-Source Association," have introduced the Nuha AI Initiative - an innovative tool designed to detect and combat instances of online gender-based violence against women in Jordan.

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The report includes country specific recommendations based on social media monitoring of case studies and the 2023 Words Matter Network Regional Forum - a three-day event focusing on disinformation and hate speech in the MENA region

  • Urgent need for legislation to combat disinformation and hate speech in the MENA region and tailor solutions to the unique cultural and political context
  • Examine and address regulatory hurdles related to algorithms on social media platforms
  • Promote inclusivity in digital spaces to create a more diverse and tolerant online environment
  • Establish fact-checking protocols to verify information and counter the spread of false narratives
  • Promote media independence to ensure unbiased reporting and information dissemination
  • Safeguard freedom of speech by addressing concerns about the misuse of penal codes against journalists and activists
  • Foster collaboration among stakeholders, including tech companies, government agencies, and civil society, to collectively address online harm

In 2023, the Words Matter project embarked on a journey to safeguard democratic processes and enhance society’s resilience to online hate speech and disinformation in the MENA region. In close collaboration with our local partners from Jordan, Lebanon, Sudan, and Tunisia, Democracy Reporting International published a series of reports that draw a comprehensive regional map of the digital landscape outlining trends and tactics prevalent in online manipulation, particularly during electoral periods. This collective effort has been driven by a strong commitment to combatting online violence targeting women in public digital spaces, a challenge that remains a key focus of our work. You can access the projects' reports here: First Regional Report , Second Regional Report and Third Regional Report.

During the implementation of this project, our partners faced a variety of challenges: the military conflict in Sudan - which prevented our Sudanese partner from continuing work on the project - internet shutdowns in Sudan; the changes in the legal framework related to disinformation and hate speech in all the countries of the region; the restricted access to information; and the changes in the social media platforms' policies. The lack of prior research in Jordan on online gender-based violence at a national level presented another significant challenge for Words Matter's partners during the project.


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Tags: MENA

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