We are a non-partisan platform dedicated to countering disinformation and hate speech, enhancing the culture of fact-checking, objectivity, tolerance and journalistic accountability, in order to promote a healthier media environment during Libya’s path to democracy.
Hate speech and disinformation can kill. In Myanmar, the United Nations found that posts on Facebook had contributed to a deadly campaign against minority Muslims that forced hundreds of thousands to flee the country. Meanwhile, over a period of several years, the Islamic State terrorist group used Telegram, Twitter and other social media apps to both recruit followers and incite attacks. Those were not exceptions: across the world, online disinformation and hate speech have contributed to violence, political instability, and social tensions.
No country is immune to it. In the United States, a mob of protesters influenced by online conspiracy theories attacked the very heart of its democracy in a riot that left several people dead. In Libya, a country that’s aspired to democracy for years, disinformation and hate speech—sometimes sponsored or disseminated by foreign states– accompanied successive wars that divided the country and its social fabric and helped turn neighbors against one another.
Social media companies have been slow to react and some, particularly Facebook—the most popular social media platform in Libya—have been accused of not doing enough, especially in non-Western countries.
In Libya, social platforms abound with disinformation and hate speech. Some of it comes from political actors, both domestic and foreign, who use fake news, hate speech and disinformation as a weapon.
In the early days of the 2011 uprising, social media helped drive democratic protests across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In Libya, social media and the internet more broadly were influential, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube becoming a source of information and a means to organize protests. But they also came to be sources of disinformation and fake news as well.
The problem was exacerbated by the country’s media landscape. For years under the Gaddafi regime, there was no independent media in the country. Following his overthrow, an abundance of media outlets was created, but the outlets are often tied to political actors in and outside the country, and serve their political ambitions. Independent and critical journalists faced the risk of violence and censorship.
Local news outlets and social media played a role in hardening the divisions in the country when Libya split under two administrations in a divide that eventually led to the 2019 war, which attracted foreign military intervention on both sides. The foreign countries intervening in Libya also utilized disinformation and propaganda on social media, and in conventional media outlets, for their own ends.
This all contributed to a public that became increasingly distrustful of media while becoming more reliant on social media, particularly Facebook, for news, and without legitimate media sources of information to turn to.
Media outlets, including television reporters and newspapers, are often tied to a political or armed faction. Reporting is highly politicized and marked by extreme simplicity and disinformation.
At the same time, actors in Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt use fake Twitter accounts and shell public relations companies to exacerbate this chaotic, polarized media environment for geopolitical gains. Since the outbreak of the Second Libyan Civil War in 2014, competing actors have sought to weaponise the information landscape in order to further their own aims and political agendas. At times, the information environment has even served as a virtual battlefield in the ongoing conflict on the ground.
All of this creates a system that is riven with hate speech and misinformation and a public that is distrustful of the media and without legitimate sources on which to turn.