In March, total Facebook engagements on Libya exceeded 10.6 million. Among the monitored themes, online interest was highest in UNSMIL and security-, primarily Haftar and LNA related, content.
This is the third report in a 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 behaviour regarding the political transition.
Online interest in the constitution remained relatively low in March. While only 15 constitution-related articles were published this month, one more than in February, the total number of engagements on these articles increased by four times to 6.702 from 1.673 in February with an average of 446 and 120 engagements per article respectively. Compared to articles on security, the National Conference or the online campaign of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, however, engagement on the constitution remains meagre.
Out of the 15 articles, an interview with Nouh Mrajea on 218 TV, member of Libya’s Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA), gained 87.7% of the total Facebook engagement in this category. In this article, Mrajea aimed to debunk some of the myths around the constitutional draft, stating that article 36 of the constitution, stipulating regulations regarding the trial of military personnel who conducted war crimes, may not be used for crimes conducted before the adoption of the constitution; that the Islamic Sharia is one of the sources, but not the major source, of Libyan legislation; that women have the right to run for general elections with or without quotas; and that the role of the Sharia Research Council is limited to only providing fatwas upon the government’s request.
The number of comments on this interview remained, however, low. Only 36 users commented on this article, out of which half are negative comments, mainly referring to the role of the LNA, the alleged crimes committed by it and whether the constitution would hold them accountable. Others cynically questioned the meaning of a constitution given the current situation in Libya as well as the quality of the final constitutional draft.
218 TV, on the same day (3 March 2019), published in total 60 articles with an average engagement of 2.893 per article, whereas the above-mentioned article gained 5.800 engagements; i.e. nearly double the average on that day. In comparison, the article with the highest engagement on this day gained 14.100 Facebook engagements. The article reported on the announcement of the Al Aman Bank to raise the withdrawal and deposit limits of cheques for all its customers.
Looking at Facebook Posts containing content on the constitution in March, 52 posts were published with a total engagement of 16.431. After the post on CDA member Nouh Mrajea, a post on a new poll conducted by Huna Libya on the constitution gained the second highest traction with 4.154 engagements.
In an attempt to understand the aspirations of Libyan youth and which outcome of the constitutional referendum they desire, Huna Libya conducted a poll to assess young people’s opinion about the constitution. The poll was administered to 3.000 young people, while no further information was given on the gender and age distribution among this sample.
The poll showed that 3 out of 4 respondents feel generally optimistic about the constitution and 57% believe Libya will become a country with respect for human rights, diversity and dignified life. In a separate question on whether Libya should return to the monarchical constitution, 46% of respondents supported this option, and 9% suggested to do without a constitution, as Libya had been governed without one for over 40 years. Moreover, there was disagreement on whether the final constitutional draft, if confirmed by a public referendum, would bring a political solution and an end of war (15%) or increase conflict and division in Libya (10%). Finally, 11% believed that the constitution would not bring change, and 7% state that with or without a constitution the situation in Libya would not differ.
This post received 4.061 Likes, was shared twice and commented on 91 times (5,5% of commenters were women). The question on a return to constitutional monarchy triggered both pro-Gaddafi comments including debates about the Green Book, as well as comments rejecting the 1951 constitution. As witnessed in previous months, administrators of this page appear very responsive and manage the comment section without restricting discussions to a certain political leaning, while challenging beliefs of commenters.
Huna Libya is a youth blogging and media platform and one of RNW Media’s non-profit projects, which describes itself as seeking to create a safe space for healthy dialogue among young Libyans from all religious, ethnic, ideological and educational backgrounds. With 281.829 page Likes, it is one of the few civil society driven Facebook Pages which has enough traction to be picked up by Facebook’s API1 and therefore offers rare insights into online discourse by Libyan civil society and reactions by both its supporters and opponents. The fact remains, however, that online engagement on the constitution in general and on this post in specific is comparatively low.
1 Facebook’s API considers only posts of pages which exceed the threshold of 100.000 page Likes. Huna Libya boosts some of its content, visible through the ad budget, which might be one of the reasons for the high engagement.
In March, online interest in elections dropped significantly. 61 articles with election-related content were posted, compared to 78 in February. The total Facebook engagement with election-related content dropped by 66% from 10.162 in February to 3.381, with an average of 55 engagements per post compared to 130 in February.
Towards the end of March, an article on the Libyan Institute for Advanced Studies (LIAS), and its seven-partite proposal to UNSMIL in its planning of the National Conference to hold elections in order to renew legitimacy and re-build institutions in Libya, generated the highest engagement on Facebook, followed by the discussion of al-Jamali, the SG of the League of Arab States, with the HoR’s Agila Saleh on holding elections before the end of 2019.
When compared to other articles published on the same day, online engagement with elections appears to be rather low. On 27 March, Almarsad.co published 60 articles in total, one of which was the LIAS article mentioned above. The LIAS article gained slightly more traction than the average, with 803 versus 634 average engagements per article. However, on the same day, an article on Haftar’s meeting with Mohamed Ben Salman in Riyad generated the highest Facebook engagement, with approximately 5.500 engagements.
The top two Facebook posts on elections in March were a video covering a protest in Sorman on 22 March, followed by a post by a female MP from Benghazi, Dr. Seham Sergiwa, on 15 March.
The video of the demonstration, which was viewed 30.000 times and gained an overall engagement of 2.212 users, showed protesters in Sorman demanding the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections, and the liberation of Tripoli by the LNA to secure these elections. This video received 289 comments, out of which 14 were made by women (4,8 %). A sample of 40 comments (12,5% women and 87,5% men) revealed that three out of four commenters support the protests, using a positive tone and supportive language, while a fourth of the comments used critical language and questioned the motives of protesters and their backers. The post was published on the Facebook Page of Almarsad, which often posts headlines with pro-Haftar/LNA tendencies and assumingly attracts a pro-LNA leaning audience.2 In hindsight and in light of the LNA’s Tripoli Operation beginning of April, the Sorman protest seems to suggest a different reading of the event, as if testing the ground for the LNA’s actual move to Tripoli two weeks later.
The Facebook post with the second most comments in the election category in March is a post on the Facebook page of the female MP Dr. Seham Sergiwa from Benghazi, who made eight demands to the National Conference that was to take place in Ghadames, one of which is to define a binding timeline for elections. The post received 247 comments, out of which 6 were made by women (2,4%). Replies to her post were either sarcastic or abusive in tone, attacking her based on her physical appearance, or inciting violence against her. Commenters repeatedly referred to her allegations, made in her capacity as a trauma therapist in 2011, that Gaddafi’s forces used a systematic rape campaign against Libyan women and girls to instil fear and crush any resistance.3 As only a negligible number of comments referred to the content of her demands. Her gender and past statement on sexual violence under the Gaddafi regime appear to be the main reason for the high engagement on this post under the election category.
2 For more information refer to DRI’s February Social Media Monitoring Report Libya.
The Facebook page of the Central Committee on the Municipal Councils Elections (CCMCE) continues to be very active in disseminating information on both candidate and voter registration. In March, the CCMCE advertised posts which displayed information on how to register to vote by SMS. However, average engagement even with advertised posts did not exceed 205.
The page posted regularly to encourage Libyans to register to vote, and informed about registration procedures in local municipalities with elections on 30 March (South: Wadi Ataba, Bent Beya and Ghadames; West: Zuwara and Baten El Jabal; Nafusa Mountains: Al Qala, Al Riyayana, Nalut and Al Hawamed). On election day, the CCMCE posted information on the opening and closure of polling stations, sent regular updates on voter statistics and posted images from the municipalities conducting elections that day. However, average engagement remained at around 100 and local CCMCE branches of the respective municipalities did not exceed 10 engagements per post.
In the January Report, DRI reported on two emerging electoral campaigns of potential presidential candidates, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Hassan Tatanaki. While both campaigns dropped significantly since January and were therefore not mentioned in February’s report, Saif al-Islam’s campaign slowly picked up some traction again. After engagement decreased by nearly 50% from January to February, it increased again in March by 21,4%, reaching 27.505 Facebook engagements in total. This represents more than 8 times more engagement than on all other election-related content together.4
Saif al-Islam’s electoral campaign appears to be an exclusively online phenomenon, which is fostered by the website Mandela Libya, administered from Egypt. This website, in addition to displaying information on Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, conducting surveys and displaying Gaddafi related news, re-shares all articles posted about Saif al-Islam, thereby acting as a funnel, further pushing engagement on these articles from its website.
A search on which outlets pushed news on Saif al-Islam over the past three months revealed that among the top 5, two are Russian (Russia Today and Sputniknews), while Afrigatenews.net and Libya24.tv are pro-Gaddafi leaning and Manlibya.com is the Mandela Libya website itself.
In March, the article with the highest engagement on Saif al-Islam was posted by libya24.tv on 14 March, entitled ‘I do not oppose the candidacy of Dr. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi - Siyala’ (GNA Minister of Foreign Affairs). With 3.500 Facebook engagements, this article received the highest engagement of all 58 articles posted by libya24.tv on that day, exceeding the average engagement by seven times.
The Facebook post on Saif al-Islam which gained the highest traction this month was a video posted on the Mandela Libya Facebook page on 26 March, featuring participants of a youth conference in Fezzan who explain why they would vote for Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. The video was viewed 68.000 times and Facebook engagement reached 2.376. The video was commented upon 239 times, out of which 5,8% of the comments were made by women. Compared to December, where a post on the results of a sponsored poll on Saif al-Islam’s potential candidacy received 32.978 reactions, 9.813 mostly supportive comments and 817 shares, the online engagement in March seems more organic.
A sample of 40 comments (5% women, 95% men) showed that commenters were split evenly between supporters and opponents of the video’s content. Equally, nearly half of the comments displayed a positive tone, praising Saif al-Islam without engaging into a discussion with critics of the video, whereas the other half showed negative comments, using critical, abusive or humorous language to express their rejection of the opinions shared in this video.
4 The keyword search for this section included سيف الإسلام ليبيا OR سيف القذافي ليبيا and is not included in the general election monitoring exercise. High engagement on Saif al-Islam related posts is therefore not represented by the overall low engagement on elections.
The Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference (CNC) was widely discussed on social media during the month of March. The number of articles mentioning the CNC increased by five times compared to February and the total and average engagement per article increase by 779% and 140% respectively. The CNC reached the third highest engagement among the five topics under scrutiny in this report.
The sudden increase of online interest in the CNC can be explained by the conference being mentioned in connection with other events of high political relevance or controversial nature. Salame’s address to the UN Security Council on the situation in Libya on 20 March, as well as his much-debated interview on Al Jazeera on 27 March, which both mentioned the CNC among other topics, gained large user engagement. The article with the highest engagement on the CNC in March was published by 218tv.net on 27 March, asking whether the National Conference would hold ‘the new millionaires’ in Libya accountable, indirectly referring to a comment by Salame on the wide-spread corruption of the political elite. This article triggered 5.500 Facebook engagements, compared to an average engagement per article on 218tv on the same day of only 1.560 engagements.
The following Facebook posts triggered most comments in March: a post on ‘observatoryly’, reporting that Al Mannae, a member of the HOR, rejects both the CNC and elections and threatens to sue the SRSG shortly after Salame’s controversial statements on Al Jazeera, as well as a post by Dr. Seham Sergewa, female HOR member, who states that 23 HOR members threaten to resign should the CNC be held abroad.
In both cases, the main reaction of commenters was rejection and opposition towards the post, without engaging more with the content of the headline. In the case of the Mannae post, commenters showed predominantly negative sentiments towards the politician, using sarcastic language and making fun of his name and physical appearance, some using religious language to express disapproval. Respondents to Dr. Sergewa’s post similarly expressed a spectrum of negative sentiments towards her and the HOR in general. In contrast to the Mannae post, however, while both male and female commenters used critical and negative language, men used more derogatory and violent terms to direct attacks at the poster, including the mention of rape and physical violence.
Online debates on UNSMIL and Ghassan Salame reached a peak in March. 485 articles on the SRSG were shared this month, which triggered a total of 96.504 engagements, an increase by 55% and 21% respectively compared to February. Facebook engagement on UNSMIL and Salame represented nearly half of all social media topics monitored in this report, closely followed by security (30%).
Triggering a social media buzz and most comments by Facebook users were the posts about Salame’s interview on Al Jazeera (mentioned above) and the reactions of several Libyan politicians responding to his video. The video was posted by OnlyLibya on 27 March, viewed 41.000 times and generating 5.500 engagements (650 comments) and Observatoryly on 28 March, viewed 62.000 times and triggering 4.363 engagements (433 comments). Samples of 40 comments (32,5 % and 7,5% women respectively) of each video showed that commenters were either aware of the corruption Salame was describing, or accusatory of the UN and Salame for collaborating with corrupt politicians or lying. The two posts received a range of comments from mainly neutral towards the SRSG, using supportive language towards Salame’s statements, to more negative sentiments, mainly using critical, humorous or sarcastic and in a few cases also abusive language towards the UN mission and its envoy.
Salame’s statements caused a stir among Libyan public figures from all political spectres, triggering responses by members of the HOR (Ziad Dghim, 40 HOR members), Presidential Council (Mohamed Amari Zayed), High Council of State (Mohamed Abu Sneina, Saad Bin Sharada, Abdulrahman al-Shater) Muslim Brotherhood (Majida al-Falah) and Revolutionary Council Tripoli (Abdallah Ahmad Naker). More than half of these posts were published by Observatoryly. They either demanded proof of the accusations or accused the SRSG of overstepping his mandate or outright lying. The post published by Eanlibya on 29 March, covering al-Shater demanding Salame to reveal a list of names of corrupt politicians, triggered the highest engagement of the above (1.460 and 297 comments). A sample of 40 randomly selected posts (all male)5 revealed that 75% of the comments expressed negative sentiments towards Shater and his demands, while 25% were neutral, demanding clear facts. The language used was mainly critical, some used a mix of humour and religiously-tainted language to express their views.
5 Out of the overall 297 comments, only 3,7% were made by women
Despite a decrease in both number of articles and engagements in the category of security6 compared to the month of February, online debate on security ranked second among the five categories monitored in this report. The number of articles decreased by 62% from 200 to 76 in March, and total and average engagement went down by 73% and 29% respectively. Major headlines focused on the LNA’s take-over of the South and its potential move towards Tripoli. The article with the highest engagement was posted by AlMarsad on 5 March, entitled ‘Major General Al-Hassi: Field Marshal Haftar will announce the liberation of the South in the coming days’. The article gained 3.900 engagements on Facebook, compared to an average engagement per article of 991. On the same day on AlMarsad, another article related to security, however not directly linked to Haftar or the LNA in its headline, triggered most online reactions with an engagement of 7.100: ‘Military commander of Sebha announces to take action against fuel smugglers in the South by aerial bombardement’.
The month of March witnessed two opposing hashtag campaigns which were started on twitter and spilled over to Facebook. The first, which started to appear on 6 March, was the tweet #SecuringTheCapital or #تأمين_العاصمة, posted by LNA supporters. The hashtag started on March 6 at 10:00 in what appeared to be a coordinated effort. It reached 194 tweets on 6 March and started to decline 24 hours later. Posts with this hashtag described Tripoli militias as supporters of terrorism and encourage citizens to welcome the LNA as a rescuer. Most prominent accounts tweeting the hashtag included @boshgma (a journalist with 68.000 followers), @matogsaleh (a media related account with 30.000 followers), @ferasbusalem (verified twitter account of a journalist with 17.800 followers) and غصة خوارج (a support page of the LNA with 38.000 followers).
The hashtag was initiated on Twitter but was then picked up by several outlets and activated on Facebook, referring to ‘social media bloggers’. While Libyaakhbar.com is a platform re-posting news of other outlets, Almarsad.co and Addresslibya.com are pro-Haftag/LNA leaning.
In March, these were the most frequently used hashtags related to Libya, #securing(thecapital) and Haftar-related hashtags ranking among the first.
On Facebook, in total 59 posts with the hashtag were posted between 6 and 12 March, of which 40 were posted on the first day. These posts reached a total of 42.200 engagements, with an average of 238 per post. Next to the Facebook pages of the outlets mentioned above, influencers like Mahmoud Messrati posted most frequently with this hashtag.
One of 6 posts by Mahmoud Messrati with the hashtag #SecuringTheCapital, posted on 6 March, triggered 3.174 engagements and 274 comments (12% by women). A sample of 40 comments (12,5% women and 87,5% men) revealed that roughly 75% of commenters were in support of the LNA, while 25% opposed the caption of the post, referring to the ‘destruction of Sirte, Derna and Benghazi’ as examples of LNA ‘rescue operations’ as well as recorded crimes by LNA members. More than half of the sample showed positive emotions towards the LNA and the campaign to enter Tripoli. Pro-LNA comments were using a mix of religious and supportive language, calling for the LNA to enter Tripoli, while anti-LNA comments exhibited criticism. All female commenters of the sample were in support of the LNA. As Mahmoud Messrati’s page has mainly LNA-supportive followers, this analysis of comments is not indicative of a larger scale, popular support for the LNA’s move towards Tripoli.
The second hashtag campaign was initiated on 20 March on Twitter entitled #تكلم_سادك_خوف or ‘speak, enough of fear’, an anti-Haftar/LNA hashtag, imitating a similar Egyptian hashtag targeting al-Sisi followers. On twitter, this hashtag triggered a higher response than the #SecuringTheCapital campaign.
The hashtag was picked up by Tanasuh TV, a channel associated with the Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, in a post on a protest in Tripoli on 22 March, demanding the end of military rule and a civil state. Another post by a Facebook blogger and influencer, Heema Saad, on 22 March, described the bribe, either in form of 500 LYD or the equivalent in marijuana, he was allegedly asked to pay at the passport office in Tobruk, followed by the hashtag #تكلم_سادك_خوف.
Both hashtag campaigns were led predominantly by male Libyans. While some women liked and retweeted the hashtags, only 1 – 3% of tweets of both hashtag campaigns were authored by women. In reaction to this hashtag, the ‘electronic counter-terrorism unit’ of the LNA posted a warning about this hashtag on 27 March, stating they would strike all terrorist cells aiming to destabilise Libya with an iron fist. The post received very low engagement, however.
Finally, Haftar’s attendance of a youth conference triggered high engagement among social media users in March. One of the posts with the highest engagements in March was posted by the official Facebook page of the LNA media office on 30 March, reporting about a youth conference held at the LNA headquarters with the supposed participation of youth from all three regions of Libya. This post received 6.177 engagements and triggered 715 comments. A sample of 40 comments (10% by women) showed that approximately 75% of the commenters reacted negatively to the post, comparing it to similar events held by Sisi in Egypt and questioning who was invited to attend. The emotions expressed were mainly negative, while language used was 75% critical about the exclusion of certain groups in this event. All women in this sample expressed opposition to the event and criticised it. 25% of commenters expressed support for Haftar and the LNA.
On 12 March, Almashhad shared an article which claimed that Haftar informed the SRSG about the LNA’s move into Tripoli, sooner of later. The article was then picked up by the Libya Akhbar website with an engagement of 741 and 1.200 respectively. No correction was issued.
In a similar vein, a TV interview with Noman Benotman8 on Libya Only on 19 March circulated his claim that Haftar will enter Tarhouna within 3 days. Unofficial pages started to pick up the news, triggering up to 10.000 engagements, and opposing claims whether Tarhouna would be joining the LNA or resisting it started to spread online.
The conversation heated up towards the end of the month, some pages claiming that Tarhuna was visited by an envoy from Misrata, a rumour which was picked up by Libya 24 TV الاجتماع الأمني المنعقد في ترهونة يفضى إلى الاتفاق على ألّا تكون المدينة مفتاحًا لأي حرب. Rumours were neither confirmed nor refuted by the end of March.
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. The number of women in these comments was consistently counted.
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.
6 Keyword search included:
الجيش الجنوب ليبيا OR قوة حماية طرابلس OR حفتر الجنوب OR تأمين العاصمة ليبيا OR ليبيا الجيش طرابلس OR تحرير طرابلس
7 Please note the link is no longer available as the Facebook page was closed down and replaced by a new Facebook page in mid-April: https://www.facebook.com/Tanasuhtvbk/
8 A former fighter with the Mujahedeen and LIFG (Islamic group fighting the Gaddafi regime), he disavowed his former beliefs and has worked on deradicalising the LIFG and supported negotiations between the Gaddafi regime and the LIFG before 2011. He is today working as the President of the London-based Think Tank Quillium and work on counter-terrorism and de-radicalisation in the Arab world.