Fighting disinformation and hate speech is key to preserving democratic processes. This is why DRI's project 'Word Matters' works to build society's resilience against these online threats in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.
Through social media monitoring and focusing on key political events in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Sudan, DRI examines trends of disinformation and hate speech. Check out the report "Online Public Discourse in MENA: 2022 Lebanese and Jordanian Elections as a Case Study First Regional Report", to access our findings in Jordan and Lebanon.
What we did
Collecting data from December 2021 to March 2022, we analysed:
- A case study of online hate on Facebook during the municipal elections in Jordan. Our partner Al Hayat Centre analysed posts and comments from 51 Facebook pages, identifying the type and intensity of hate speech. Subsequently, we provided recommendations to local authorities and civil society actors. This analysis showed that 23.4% of the 11,255 comments contained hate messages.
- The Lebanese elections of 15 May 2022. Our partner Maharat Foundation monitored the online political arguments of politicians and influencers before the elections from February 2022 to March 2022. They highlighted how most posts appealed to citizens' emotions, launching accusatory messages or conspiracy theories. According to the data, 94.2 per cent of tweets and posts can be described as populist. Another report finding is the lack of transparency, showing how anonymous administrators run political campaigns. We also conducted a case study of hate speech against Lebanese journalist Dalia Ahmed, victim of an online harassment campaign. The following report will further analyse the period from April 2022 onwards, covering election day and afterwards.
- A case study on gender-based violence on Twitter in the MENA region. Helmi Noman (Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society) investigated how women are politically active regarding online gender violence on Twitter. The study looked at Loujain Hathloul (Saudi Arabian women's rights activist and political prisoner), Dima Sadek (Lebanese TV presenter), Ghada Oueiss (Al Jazeera TV main anchorwoman from Lebanon) and Tawakkol Karman (Yemeni Nobel Peace Prize laureate). All four women were targeted by offensive content generated by a few accounts and amplified by retweets and replies, using abusive hashtags to expand their reach.
Our next report will cover online political disinformation during the July referendum on the Tunisian Constitution, as well as hate speech and disinformation during the coup.
How we did it
DRI localised the English version of the Digital Democracy Monitor Toolkit and produced an Arabic version. The Toolkit is designed to help journalists and researchers conduct social media monitoring independently. It is one of the first practical social media monitoring toolkits available in Arabic for civil society and academia to conduct research on online democracy without outsourcing the technical aspects of the work to international organisations.
The Arabic localisation of the Toolkit has proved to be a valuable resource for our partners. For example, Maharat Foundation used it to monitor hate speech in Lebanese parliamentary election campaigns and in their work on gender-based violence. So did SUDIA, our Sudanese partner.What we want to achieve
The report contains recommendations to improve the integrity of information. The goal is to make citizens an active part of society, construct an opinion free from manipulation, and prevent hate speech from resulting in violence. At a general level, our recommendations are based on:
- Agreeing on the definition of hate speech without restricting freedom of expression while respecting international standards and local contexts.
- Building regional networks and coalitions to facilitate knowledge exchange.
- Collect data and encourage open data practices while respecting data protection standards.
- Work with social media platforms to provide greater access to monitoring tools.
- Make the policies by which platforms remove online content more transparent.
The report also contains country-specific recommendations, considering their individual legislative frameworks. This is the first of four reports to be published in this project. Download the full version in Arabic and English and attend our launch event on 6 October from 12:00 to 14:00 CEST.