Lebanon #Disinformation: the online threat to protest in the Middle East

 

Social media users face attacks from influencers and fake accounts at home and abroad

Ruth Michaelson in Cairo and Michael Safi in Amman

Sun 15 Dec 2019

 

Lebanese protests in Zouk Mosbeh, north of the capital Beirut, in October. Protesters, and those reporting on the protests, have been subject to a storm of disinformation. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty

When Dima Sadek, a Lebanese journalist, tweeted footage of chants against the country’s powerful armed movement Hezbollah, she quickly became a target of online abuse.
Sadek was reportingfor the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation from the scene of anti-government protests that have swept Lebanon since mid-October. “A few minutes later – only a few minutes – I was trending,” she says.

A hashtag translating as “Dima the lowest” was the most tweeted that night. The sudden organised onslaught was familiar to the journalist, who later quit her job, citing the harassment she had received as a factor.

As anti-corruption and anti-austerity protests continue across the Middle East, a powerful storm of disinformation has been unleashed in an attempt to divert debate online.
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Sadek, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah and its political allies, says she has long been a lightning rod for abuse on social media. “Whatever I write, I receive thousands of insults and threats. I get phone calls, my mum receives phone calls, so do my family.”

She accepts that some of the opprobrium comes from real readers and viewers. “But there is also lots of spam,” she says. “It’s an organised machine, using fake accounts.”
The backlash against Sadek bore the hallmarks of attacks using a combination of political “influencers” on social media and fake accounts that work to stoke organic engagement online.

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