The MENA region has been grappling with political instability fueling the spread of hate speech and disinformation on social media. What we consider to be vaccines against this malaise- independent media, comprehensive fact-checking mechanisms, and online literacy initiatives- are lacking in the Middle East and North Africa.
Furthermore, the uncontrolled spread of disinformation fosters extreme viewpoints, polarising society and hindering constructive dialogue, a crucial feature of any healthy democracy. What can we do?
Our third report from the Words Matter project zooms in on three countries where our partners conducted social media monitoring.
- Tunisia: LabTrack monitored social media during the December 2022/January 2023 legislative elections.
- Jordan: Our partners "Jordan Open-Source Association and Al Hayat Center - RASED delve deep into the legal and social context of gendered hate speech, presenting the findings of a machine-learning module "Nuha", designed to detect online violence against women in Arabic. They also shed light on attempts to discredit and undermine women in leadership positions online.
- Lebanon: Our partner Maharat engaged in an inclusive literacy awareness campaign to pre-bunk false information before the local elections in 2024.
The report's findings highlight the urgent need for collective action to address the growing challenges posed by disinformation and online harassment to safeguard the integrity of democratic processes and promote gender equality.
Identified Regional Trends
DRI and its partners identified three regional trends impacting the MENA region's political landscape:
1/Persistent Patterns of Disinformation in Election Campaigns:
Disinformation in Tunisia plays a common role in undermining political candidates and questioning the integrity of the electoral system; similarly, in Lebanon, an unbalanced and distorted informational environment creates similar challenges in the electoral context.
2/ The Strategic Use of Online Gender-Based Violence:
The report reveals a concerning increase in online gender-based violence during electoral campaigns in Tunisia. In Jordan, our partner, JOSA, observed online gender-based violence targeting women activists during the training phase of "Nuha" (an AI model for detecting online gender-based violence towards women in Jordan).
3/ Coordinated Online Disinformation Campaigns During Major Political Events:
Our report also reveals that networks on Facebook pages strategically coordinate their content and activities to amplify specific political positions during legislative elections in Tunisia.
The report includes country- and region-specific recommendations based on social media monitoring and our partners' observations addressed to key actors:
- Social media companies: Investing in greater resources in the moderation of Arabic-language content.
- Governments: Investing in increasing social media literacy.
- For civil society: Local civil society organisations, media outlets, and researchers should connect, collaborate, and establish a system of checks and balances for national authorities and tech platforms. Also, civil society organisations should put the mental health of researchers first.
- For researchers: Conducting large-scale research on gendered hate speech in the region.
Our project, Words Matter, conducts social media monitoring and research to r disinformation and hate speech in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. You can access its other two reports so far here: First Regional Report , Second 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.