(Dec. 2018 – Jan. 2019)
Analysis by Khadeja Ramali
This publication is produced by Democracy Reporting International, based on social media data analysis by Khadeja Ramali.
The publication is part of DRI’s project “Strengthening Libyan Civil Society Engagement on the Constitution and the Political Transition”, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.
Social Media Insights on Elections
With the municipal elections approaching, the Central Committee for the Municipal Councils Elections (CCMCE) posted regularly on its official Facebook page.
In the period from 5 to 20 December, CCMCE published 26 posts providing voters with the necessary information regarding voter registration.
The post announcing the beginning of voter registration received the highest number of engagements (1.036) and was shared 414 times. The same trend continued in January where the CCMCE page recorded the highest average engagement as compared to other government pages.
The CCMCE page admin responded to questions posed by users and provided the necessary information, whether by directing them to a CCMCE branch or otherwise.
The administrator was able to discredit imposter pages that aim at disseminating fake news about the municipal elections.
In general, the comments section is well managed and very few abusive or negative comments were found.
In December, two controversial potential presidential candidatures became highly visible on Facebook: Those of Saif al-Gaddafi and Hassan Tatanaki.
The first pieces of news about their possible candidature were sponsored. It appeared that a targeted social media campaign was at work to frame them as heavyweight politicians, possibly to secure their seat in the UN-backed Comprehensive National Dialogue Conference.
In the beginning of December, Saif Al-Gaddafi’s representatives travelled to Moscow to deliver a letter allegedly from the political figure himself asking for support on running for elections in Libya in addition to supporting his vision to end the Libyan crisis.
At the same time, a Facebook page entitled “Mandela Libya” was created, comparing Saif al-Gaddafi to Nelson Mandela. It posted a sponsored poll asking citizens whether they support Saif al-Gaddafi to be elected as President. The page reported that 65.125 out of 71.065 said ‘Yes’.
Even though the page was only created in December 2018, it has already gained 103.400 likes/followers by the end of the month.
The number of Likes and Shares of the various posts on the page is significantly higher than on other comparable public Facebook pages. For instance, the post announcing the results of the sponsored poll received 32.978 reactions, 9.813 mostly supportive comments and 817 shares.
Manual sampling of some 7000 accounts which shared the poll post suggests that at least 75% of them are fake accounts.
They were newly created, often in December 2018 and were “friends” with each other. The name combination of many of these accounts followed the same pattern – the same word mentioned twice (in Arabic) – and very few had profile pictures.
Many of the accounts tried to appear credible by indicating a job but in all cases the job had supposedly started in December 2018 around the time the poll was created.
It is important to note however, that there is no definitive tool to carry out automatic inspection of all accounts or to match the accounts that “Liked” the page to those which responded to the survey.
Following the publication of the post, several Libyan and international news outlets such as Sky News Arabia, Afrigate News, Aswat and others picked up the poll results.
The interest this piece of news received from social media users surpasses other political content published within the same time period.
In January, the number of posts about Saif al-Gaddafi decreased dramatically as compared to December. The main source for the Facebook engagement during this month originated from three Russia today (RT) articles published on 15th January.
Graph Showing Facebook Engagement with regards to Saif Al-Gaddafi related Articles in December And January
The other presidential hopeful, Hassan Tatanaki, is a Libyan businessman who has just founded a political party entitled “Libyan Democratic Unity”.
He has a professional public page, created in 2013, with 1.8 million Likes. Even though a significant number of the users following his page has grown organically, there is a substantial number of fake accounts as well.
Manual inspection of a sample of 10.000 accounts from the page found the same pattern of names, occupation, education and newly acquired Facebook friendships as in the case of Saif al-Gaddafi’s.
Unlike Mandela Libya page, comments on Tatanki’s are unfiltered: negative and abusive comments are left unremoved under the various posts.
Tatanaki has received special media attention in December, particularly in relation to his statement criticizing the successive Libyan governments for the protracted conflict and political crisis.
His statement was picked up by several news outlets, one of which is Almotawaset website. The news item was shared on Facebook 13.535 times, which is an unusually high number in the Libyan SM landscape.
To compare, the engagement of Facebook posts on unofficial pages averages around 3.000 – 5.500 engagements per post, while the average engagement on government related posts is less than 1000.
Tatanki gave an interview to Al Arabiya channel, which was then posted as a sponsored post on أنا ليبي ومراتي ليبية or I am Libyan and my wife is Libyan, where he states that the only solution to achieve stability is the election of a single ruler.
The majority of the comments were sarcastic. Some users asked the page admins about the amount of money they were paid to sponsor the post.
In January, the number of posts about Tatanaki dropped as compared to the month of December. However, the pattern of user engagement with Tatanaki related posts remained the same.
For instance, the video post entitled “The only solution for Libya’s stability is to amend the constitution” was viewed 118.388 times and received 2.800 Likes, 197 comments and 78 shares.
Generally, elections attracted the attention of six main media outlets during the month of January as indicated in the below chart:
Debates on elections evolved as various political actors expressed different opinions as to whether elections should be held and when.
One of those actors was Atef Belregaeg, a notorious leader of the Tripoli Revolutionary militias, accused by the GNA Interior Minister Fathy Baghasha of being the cause of the security chaos that wrecked east Tripoli and led to the forcible displacement of hundreds of families.
Belregaeg believes that the only solution for Libya’s crisis is to hold elections and enact a constitution by going to a national comprehensive dialogue.
The statement was published by Alaraby website, gathering 8.037 engagements in total, out of which 193 were comments and 29 shares on Facebook.
Delaying the presidential elections was another popular theme during the month of January.
The comments of Ziyad Dagheem, a House of Representatives (HOR) member, attracted significant attention on social media. Dagheem expressed his support of Salame’s alleged plan to postpone the presidential elections).
Dagheem’s statement was significant as he is a member of the HOR Barga bloc that holds the opposite view on the matter. The article that was published on Almarsad platform received 3.900 Likes, 294 comments and 29 shares in total.
By manually analyzing the top 19 comments, we found that the majority of comments were negative and had an accusatory tone, understanding a delay in elections as an act of conspiracy by intentionally prolonging of the status quo. Some used humor to convey the message while others resorted to abusive language. And all 19 comments were by men.
Part 3: Social Media Insights on UNSMIL
Khadeja Ramali, 27, is a geophysicist and co-founder of Project Silphium. She is currently collaborating with Libyan women’s Radio Network Project, which aims to expand the capacity of women media professionals in Libya.