Lebanon is not only a regional center of media production but also the most liberal and free in the Arab world. It was one of the first countries in the Arabic-speaking world to introduce internet and Beirut’s newspapers were the first in the region to provide readers with web versions of their newspapers (Media of Lebanon, (n.d.), para. 2). In Lebanon, protest organizers have since day one been aware of the importance of media coverage, whether in its traditional or modern form. Social media users generally hold positive views on its impact and potential for creating social change. Ultimately, social media is being seen and used as an agent of change.
Social Movement Organizations (SMOs) realize social media often help them attract mainstream media coverage, locally and internationally. Women’s rights activists made significant progress in 2011 with the help of social media. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Women’s Day, activists organized multiple events, advertising the events almost exclusively online, via Facebook, websites, blogs, and online forums. The cumulative effect, in combination with strategic litigation and advocacy, led to the implementation of tougher sentences for honor crimes (Human Rights Watch) and the passing of a law on domestic violence in April 2014.
Figure 1 Women’s Rights Activists
Similarly, Animals Lebanon campaigned in 2010 to shut down a circus accused of animal abuse. The group launched the campaign through Facebook, their email list and website. It succeeded in shutting down the circus for one month (Arwa Damon CNN. Nov.22,2010, last para.) More importantly, the publicity surrounding the campaign garnered attention from local and international media and broad support from animal advocacy groups, leading to the first animals’ rights legislation in Lebanon.
Figure 2 Beirut Marathon Association
Social media and blogs offer a richer dialogue, where activists can act as mediators between the public and Lebanese officials. Blogs make the idea of a dynamic network of ongoing debate, dialogue and commentary central and emphasize the interpretation and dissemination of alternative information to a heightened degree. SMOs depend on social media to organize events internally, build coalitions, collaborate on initiatives, and strengthen relationships with supporters.
Lebanese SMOs credit recent achievements, at least in part, to increased exposure facilitated by social media. SMOs recognize digital media’s capacity to quickly and inexpensively reach broader and otherwise inaccessible audiences, and to effectively promote causes and increase visibility in local and international media.
How has social media influenced events in your country?
Is social media being used as an agent of change?