The month of February marks the eighth anniversary of Libya’s Revolution. The occasion prompted substantial online activities, some of which were celebratory while others expressed critical views on how events unfolded since 2011.
This report therefore features the commemoration of 17 February in addition to the topics of the constitution, elections, the UN roadmap and security, which DRI began to monitor in December 2018.
In this series of monthly social media monitoring reports, DRI screens Facebook content posted on Libyan public pages established for or run by political figures, government institutions, media outlets and influencers in order to understand the social media landscape and debates in Libya. It seeks to identify key narratives that shape the Libyan public opinion and map potential social media manipulation. The report offers an analysis of content consumed by Libyan users on Facebook and their online behavior regarding the political transition.
On 17 February 2011, Libyans revolted against Gaddafi and his authoritarian rule. The social media reaction to the eighth anniversary of Libya’s revolution varied: some voiced celebratory sentiments and others expressed disappointment with the status quo. Between 15 and 18 February, 346.450 engagements were generated for posts about the 17 February uprising, many of which were about the celebrations that took place in Tripoli, where famous Tunisian singers were featured in a concert held in Martyrs Square.
By examining the top 10 posts (five about celebrations in Tripoli and 5 about celebrations in Benghazi) that generated the highest engagements on Facebook, Tripoli celebrations posts gathered 95.560 engagements as opposed to only 1.846 for the Benghazi ones.
One of the most widely-shared posts was published on Only Libya, announcing that the famous Tunisian rapper Balti would perform during the 17 February celebrations in Tripoli. The post was shared more than 1.200 times and received over 11.000 comments. Unlike the comment pattern with posts of political nature, entertainment tends to draw both male and female audiences. They felt that the money spent on concerts is money not well spent and could have been invested otherwise to resolve some of the problems that plague the country. Many of the comments by both male and female Facebook users disapproved of the celebratory events.
Online interest in the constitution appears to have declined substantially over the month of February. This is evident in both the decreased number of articles on this topic and the level of online engagement. Only 14 constitution-related articles have been published this month as compared to 27 in January. Total number of engagements in February decreased to 1.673 from 4.505 in January with an average of 120 and 167 engagements per article respectively.
Out of the fourteen articles, one was published by Alhadath.net covering a meeting held by the Progressive Forces Assembly, a group of representatives from unions, political parties, independent politicians, civil society and academics, with Hassan Hassan Tatanaki as their chairperson. They called for the revival of the constitutional process and for reaching an agreement on a timeline for the presidential and parliamentary elections. The piece generated the highest engagements (634) in this category. The below figure shows the highest engagement per media outlet on constitution-related content:
The same outlet, Alhadath.net, on the same day (13 February 2019), published articles with an average engagement of 1.289 per article, whereas the highest number of engagements with the constitution-related articles was 623; i.e. nearly 50% below the average on that day.
In an attempt to understand young people’s attitude towards the constitution and to assess their knowledge of this topic, Huna Libya – a platform for youth to express their views – conducted a poll to measure young people’s knowledge of the constitution. The poll was administered to 3.000 young people, out of which 71% were male and 29% female. The findings, however, were not disaggregated by gender.
The poll showed that 18% of the respondents defined the constitution as the social contract that governs the relationship between citizens and the state, while 44% said it was the law. 31% said that the only thing they knew about the constitution was that it is the solution to achieve stability, and five percent indicated that it is a ‘necessity’ based on what they heard. Only 1% said that they knew nothing about it.
The poll results were published on Huna Libya Facebook page, which has over 276.000 Likes. The post did not gain any meaningful traction among the page fans however, who are predominantly youth. The quality of the few comments left by the page fans appears to contradict the usual pattern in the Libyan social media landscape, which is often short, biased and dense with emojis/reactions. While indicating disappointment with the poll results, the Page fans began debating some of the findings and the Admin of the Page was actively engaged in the discussions with the users. Yet, the fact remains that interest in online content about the constitution is meagre.
In February, more articles were published on elections: 78 articles as compared to 46 in January. Despite this increase, the total Facebook engagement with election-related content dropped by 54% from 22.176 in January to 10.162, with an average of 130 engagements per post.
Towards the end of February, the Abu Dhabi meeting between Haftar, the Commander of the Libyan National Army, and Al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA), generated the highest engagement and content on Facebook, followed by an interview the UN Special Envoy Salame had given to Al-Hadath on elections.
Engagement with election-related content is low compared to posts on security topics. For instance, Almarsad.co published three articles about the elections over the month of February. The article titled “Fighting Terrorism.. the Comprehensive National Conference.. Holding Elections.. are the highlights of Salame’s Interview” - was published on 23 February and generated the highest Facebook engagement out of the three, with approximately 1.100 engagements. When compared to other articles published on the same day, the engagement with elections appears to be very low. An article about security published on 23 February titled “The Airforce threatens to Target any Military Approach towards the Central and South Regions” for example, gathered approximately 6.900 engagements on Facebook.
The Facebook page of the Central Committee on the Municipal Councils Elections (CCMCE) continues to be very active in disseminating information on both candidate registration and voter registration. The page administrators appear to answer questions asked by users patiently, regardless of how many times the same question is asked.
On 14 February 2019, the CCMCE Facebook Page published a post announcing the beginning of candidate registration for 16 municipalities, with a deadline on 26 February. The post collected approximately 4.200 Likes and 200 comments. A sample of 40 comments revealed that the majority of the comments are neutral in tone and mainly posing questions about the process.
On 27 February 2019, the Facebook page of the Ghadames CCMCE branch announced that no list/candidate had applied for registration.
On 28 February, the main CCMCE page posted that the deadline for list/candidate registration had been extended to 4 March for the same 16 municipalities.
Although the Ghadames page has very few Likes (327), the Administrator of the page made sure to post a follow-up on the candidate registration announcement. On February 28, the Admin posted that one list, one candidate for the disability category, and one female candidate for the woman seat had applied for registration.
The CCMCE published 18 posts on its Facebook page in February. In comparison, the High National Elections Commission (HNEC) Facebook page published 14 posts. Although the number of posts is close, the CCMCE managed to generate over 15.630 engagements, while the HNEC achieved a total of 1.300 engagements for its 14 posts. One likely explanation is the fact that the CCMCE page is more responsive than HNEC’s. Also, the CCMCE sponsors dissemination of some of its posts to ensure wider outreach. The below figure shows the posts of and engagement with CCMCE and HNEC pages respectively over time in February.
Out of the 18 posts published by the CCMCE page, 14 were cards/photos, generating over 14.000 engagements. The same pattern is also detected with the HNEC, as more engagement tends to be associated with photos/cards rather than video or plain text as the below figure shows:
A social media buzz was created around UK Ambassador Frank Baker after his remarks on a potential delay of presidential elections and the Libyan National Army. Almarsad.co published five articles around Baker’s visit to the General Command of the Armed Forces in Rajma, generating the most engagements. Meanwhile, Libya24.tv published 13 articles describing different reactions from Libya to the Ambassador’s comments. The most engagements came as a reaction to one article published by Almarsad.co entitled بيكر نفى لحفتر تحريض بلاده على الجيش فى مجلس الأمن بعد رسالة السراجor "Baker denied that his Country is inciting against LNA at the Security Council after Al Sarraj’s message".
A sentiment analysis of the headlines of articles related to Baker’s statement shows that 60% of articles use negative wording towards the incident, while 40% use neutral language. The graph below shows that Libya24.tv used predominantly negative wording, while Libyaalahrar.tv and Afrigatenews.net used neutral wording and Almarsad.co and Libyaakhbar.com used both negative and neutral messaging.
The Libyan social media landscape is filled with forged documents that are circulated for the purpose of misinformation and disrupting peacebuilding efforts. Tracking the number of times fake documents were shared remains a challenge. Many Libyans do not use the “share” option, rather, they take a screenshot of the fake document and repost it on their personal pages and closed Facebook groups or send it via WhatsApp. A case in point is a fake appointment letter of two new deputies for the Preparation Committee of the Libya-led Whole General Congress (a Libyan initiative, not to be mixed up with the UN Comprehensive National Conference, to hold a nation-wide dialogue to resolve the political impasse). The Official Page of the Preparation Committee refuted the document and wrote on it “Fake Appointment”. The Higher Media Committee of the Libyan-led General Congress described the fake letter as an attempt by “spoilers to disrupt the congress and to prolong the crisis.” So far, the refutation was only shared 13 times although the page has over 53.000 Likes.
In February, a total of 360 Facebook posts were published on UNSMIL and UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame, with total engagements of 76.346, which displays a decline of 33% from 95.676 engagements in January. There is a 4,5% drop in the number of articles published in February as compared to the 377 articles published in January. The following are the three peaks of UNSMIL-related online activities in February:
The two media outlets that publish most articles about UNSMIL are Almarsad and Libya24.tv. The Almarsad Facebook page has 538.088 Likes and is based in Jordan. Created in February 2016, the page often writes headlines that have pro-LNA and pro-Haftar tendencies. As for the Libya24.tv Facebook page, it is a London-based media organization with 603.873 Likes and a pro-Gaddafi leaning. The following figure shows the top six media pages that post about UNSMIL, and the level of engagement per each:
The presence of the LNA in the South attracted significant social media attention with 200 articles published and 142.873 engagements generated, the great majority negative in tone (52%), some positive (25%) and some neutral (23%).
On 16 February, a video was posted by Almarsad for the Government of National Accord (GNA) Minister of Interior Fathy Bashagha, saying that the LNA campaign in the South performs an “acceptable” patriotic duty to rid the South from transnational organized crime and terrorism. The video received over 13.200 engagements out of 69.497 engagements for a total of 32 articles published on different topics by Almarsad on the same day.
DRI uses a research method which combines quantitative data analysis methods with qualitative content analysis. Quantitative data collected on a monthly basis is aggregated from Facebook’s Graph Application Programming Interface (API) through three third-party tools: Netvizz, Buzzsumo and Crowdtangle. Queries are built based on known keywords associated with predefined topics. These queries are updated on a weekly basis depending on relevance in the following thematic categories: (1) the constitution, (2) elections, (3) the UN roadmap, and (4) security and legitimacy. To qualitatively analyse conversations and comments, Netvizz is used to extract the top 200 comments of the selected Facebook posts. Then 20% of these comments are manually selected based on a random selection method. Redundant comments that only have one word replies or are not relevant to the post are removed.
DRI monitors public pages on Facebook, meaning that any personal messages or information shared on private groups are outside the scope of this research and not considered in this report. Although Twitter is only used by 7% of Libyan Social Media Users, compared to 72% Facebook Users, Twitter is consulted to complement the Facebook based research, compare findings and identify diverging or complementary trends on a platform that is often used by political figures or journalists. For more statistics on Libya’s social media landscape, and more information on DRI’s methodology, the terminology used and our coding dictionary, please check out the documents below.