Al Rawiya

Social Media as a Primary Tool in Electoral Propaganda

The 2022 Lebanese Parliamentary elections were seen as a chance for change. However, the reality is much more complex, with results being marred by manipulation and fabrication of both friends and foes, leading back to results not that different from previous election cycles. Thanks to Twitter’s open-source data, researchers can monitor and analyze conversations around specific events and themes. By studying online behaviors, we can gain insight into context-based triggers that contribute to the rise or fall of candidates. During the period leading up to the elections, tactics traditionally used offline and on mainstream media, morphed with the times and were used online with a much broader reach, influencing an even larger audience. As expected, established parties utilized social media in the election battle, using their cyber armies to make their narrative the loudest and swing the public opinion pendulum their way.

PART 1 – Findings of the Research 

During this time, 30647 data points, or conversations, were analyzed, and certain observations were made.

1- The political establishment knew precisely how to use and abuse mainstream and social media to expand its influence. They dominated both mainstream and online ecosystems, taking control of the narrative and stifling the voices of the alternative candidates who did not have the resources to fund paid television media slots. As is any case on social media, the platforms’ algorithms also worked in favor of the “popular” parties, highlighting them repeatedly and limiting the reach of alternative candidates to specific echo chambers. In the few occasions that alternative candidates were hosted on mainstream media, they were met online with criticism, trolling, disinformation and unfounded accusations by the traditional political parties and their supporters, who took turns slandering their names and agendas.

2- In a country without separation of religion and state, men of the robe are perceived as actual political leaders, making them prime examples of opinion leaders. In many cases, an individual comes to accept an idea when they receive it from mainstream media and verify it with an opinion leader (be it a relative, colleague, friend or influencer) as the two-step flow of communication theory suggests. Opinion leaders, who are directly influenced by mass media, then help shape the views of most individuals in society, passing on their opinions to their followers.The validation and verification that religious figures provided to political parties and candidates played a significant role in swaying public opinion. 

3- Remarkably, the various political parties that are ideological rivals had many similarities in their approach and slander of alternative candidates and their partisans. For example, treason was an allegation used as a marker of patriotism. It was the weapon of choice against candidates who are opposed to Hezbollah, accusing them of being “Zionists” and “traitors,” as well as conspiring against Hezbollah to serve an Israeli agenda. On the other end of the spectrum, Lebanese Forces supporters used treason to warn against candidates who were allegedly affiliated with Hezbollah, calling them “Dhimmis”, which denotes Christians who seek Muslim protection or seek Muslims’ votes to win. 

4- The geographical surface of Lebanon is relatively tiny at 10,452 km, yet it encompasses one of the most diverse civilizations. Each political party/religion/gang worked in their districts to desecrate candidates belonging to non-traditional political parties, drawing them up as the enemy. A range of context-sensitive triggers that can severely harm a candidate’s reputation were used to turn the public opinion against them. Some of the examples were the use of LGBTQ+ rights and civil marriage narratives in the Sunni conservative districts of Beirut against Ibrahim Mneimni, or the use of communism in Metn against Jad Ghosn- echoing the Civil War antagonism between leftist parties and the mostly conservative Christian population. This was also apparent in the use of allegations of Zionism against Firas Hamdan in South Lebanon. Another civil war narrative resurfaced in Christian-majority districts, as LF users massively accused Shamaluna candidates of being supported by SSNP online, turning this accusation into a warning against voting for such candidates. Also, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) supporters warned against voting for Aley candidate Mark Daou, alleging he is affiliated with PSP in an attempt to revive the deeply rooted Michel Aoun-Walid Jumblatt stand-off. In parallel, Future Movement (FM) supporters recalled LF civil war atrocities in their public narratives to discourage Beirut and Tripoli voters from voting for the LF coalition.

5- Established parties used the same techniques with their social presence online, yet as George Orwell once wrote, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” In this scenario, Hezbollah is the “more equal” animal, being the most adept online, followed by the Lebanese Forces. However, none of the parties were exempt from othering rival parties, and ostracizing alternative parties by sharing misinformation and disinformation, circulating stories portraying them as part of the existing arrangement rather than bringing about any real change, and depicting the candidates as antagonists of their communities, augmenting the existing rift between the Lebanese communities

6- Morality and transparency were hard to come by during the elections. Many political parties worked around the imposed funding regulations of social media(SM) giants like META by campaigning from associated accounts and affiliates. It is crucial for META and SM giants to partner with local entities to conduct research to assess the need to amend the existing Lebanese legislation in order for it to encompass clear regulations for online campaigning, data privacy, and the utilization of targeted ads, without mixing it up with censorship. Consequently, the community has the responsibility to fact check and use the information provided to them about the strategies employed by political parties on the internet, making individuals more resilient against such maneuvers, and arming them with knowledge to make educated decisions. Media literacy remains the most impactful in empowering individuals against such tactics.

PART 2 – Consequences of the Parliamentary Elections

The 2022 parliamentary elections took place after a series of events powerful enough to force any nation into making a decisive change in its politics and ideology. Apparently though, this was not the case in Lebanon. The free fall and decline of Lebanese society began with the end of the banking scheme which instigated the total collapse of the economy, resulting in the Lebanese pound losing some 95% of its value, driving up prices and demolishing purchasing power in the import-dependent country. Nevertheless, the economic collapse was preceded by the October uprising, which reconnected the diaspora politically, re-engaged disengaged youth, and created political awareness which generated several anti-establishment movements, and was generally viewed as a sign of hope.

Then came the most catastrophic event of them all, the 4th of August Port Blast, which butchered Beirut in cold blood, along with the 8th of August repression on protestors which took the last breath of resistance some had, leading them to realize the true nature of this beast of a state that was willing to walk on and murder its citizens to remain in power.

With all these major life impacting events that sequentially took place in a short period, it is still tough to predict the outcome in Lebanon due to the intricate spider web that has been spun between the trifecta of the powerhouses, the banking sector, and religious authorities. The outcome was less than favorable, almost comical, making one wonder if this is all some sort of horrible joke or social experiment. Three years into the crisis, Riad Salame’s picture boasting in his gold chamber tells more than any of the many failed attempts to explain the dystopian economic reality.

Credits: Picture generated through the AI Prisma provided by Ralph Baydoun

The 4th of August blast, one of the world’s largest non-nuclear explosions, should have redirected the narrative. Instead, it quickly became an opportunity for the resources-dry establishment to make use of – especially with the lifeline handed by Macron’s France which consequently boosted the morale of politicians and filled the pockets of the establishment with donations and much needed international solidarity to polish their evil image.

Credits: Picture generated through the AI Prisma provided by Ralph Baydoun

The country’s mood quickly shifted from revenge to “survive and rebuild”. Everybody saw the opportunity, taking advantage of a nation and its citizens in shambles. Unemployed citizens got involved in a communal exercise of doing good and generating income. Artists emerged or re-emerged, using the tragedy as a muse to produce paintings, statues, structures and music videos. Depressed social media influencers had a new “hot topic” to discuss, resurfacing in the online echo chambers.

Credits: Picture generated through the AI Prisma provided by Ralph Baydoun

It was an opportunity for the political figures to polish their reputation and regroup their clientelist networks.

Credits: Screenshot from Twitter provided by Ralph Baydoun

It was also an opportunity for political groups to further polarize their masses prior to the elections by producing scenes like the Tayyouni spectacle, which resulted in the death of a number of Amal and Hezbollah supporters. The LF and its leader were blamed (an allegation the LF leader did not fully deny) although all video evidence shows that the Lebanese Armed Forces fired the first shot.

In parallel, Joseph Skaf, Joe Bejjani and Lokman Slim were assassinated, all affiliated directly or indirectly with the port blast. Judge Tarek Bitar is legally crippled and the international community doesn’t care. Such events stand as a warning that anybody who tries to understand the truth of the port case will be either silenced, crippled or end up, for a lack of better wording, dead.


These factors combined led to the election of thirteen deputies from the anti-establishment movement. Optimists and opportunists saw this as a win, or stepping stone, but realists saw it as the worst position the “change” brand could be in. Thirteen deputies, holding different political backgrounds and ideologies, united only by a common enemy and unified cause: the fight against the corrupt establishment. Yet, to this day, they are unable to achieve any goals they claimed to have set out, or to disrupt any of the politics, and they are unwilling to participate in the executive decisions, reducing their roles to proctors monitoring and recording the violations and corruption they witness on the inside. Their inability to stop the bleeding of the state economy or showcase a successful governing example, and failure to produce any significant political change, will push the public to disengage. This inability is also largely produced by the way the political and electoral system in Lebanon is set up. In short, this system’s expiry date has been long overdue. Meanwhile, the establishment parties and MPs continue to use their positions to exhaust the country’s remaining resources, including new ones generated by the crisis, be it the dollar exchange rate, fuel, bread, medication, winterization, etc., to feed their clientelist networks and extend their lifelines.

Credits: Picture generated through the AI Prisma provided by Ralph Baydoun

The 300,000 Lebanese diaspora who flew out of their parent’s nests in Lebanon to vote for “change” and fled the country since the crisis have established new lives and will soon disengage. The scrutiny and pressure to question their achievements may lead to them falling back on the much stronger psychological bond and voting, as their parents did before them, for their traditional parties. This festive season demonstrated how convenient the new economic reality is for the 700,000 Lebanese who have returned home for Christmas, as they realize that they have climbed up the rungs of the social class ladder, by default holding greater power and influence than they could have ever imagined.

Credits: Picture generated through the AI Prisma provided by Ralph Baydoun

The elephant in the room needs to be exposed and reality checked. Hezbollah and Amal still dominated 100% of the Shia seats during the elections, forcing Nabih Berry, yet again, down everyone’s throat as the head of the parliament. He still enforces control as per the Taif Agreement, granting him the religious veto right to disrupt politics in the country. The establishment remains in power and continues to abuse the loopholes in the system to halt any change and keep the status quo unchanged.


What does this mean for the future of Lebanese politics?


I believe all the elements play against producing positive internal change due to the limited experience of players leading change compared to that of the traditional players, the emigration of our most valuable experts, and the internationally imposed status-quo. Change can only come at the hands of a new blend of Lebanese diaspora and locals in the country, not the politicians nor the activists aspiring to become what they fight, but at the hands of project managers, data scientists, computer engineers, academics and many other professionals in their respective fields. By connecting with Lebanese professionals around the world, the Lebanese will begin producing successful projects and helping each other grow economically, which will allow them to come up with creative theories, develop them, and advocate and lobby for them organically amongst themselves, away from the media and specifically, social media. That is the only long term strategy I see, one that does not replicate the trajectory of traditional politics. We live in a different time and it is time for change.


On a shorter note, the establishment is eyeing the municipality elections set to take place on the May 31st of this year. They aim to retighten their grip over all forms of governance and resources. Even though the municipality elections have a different set of rules of engagement due to their tribal/ familial/ local nature, the use of online public data is invaluable in understanding tactics in play, to form a cohesive response. Serious candidates wishing to unseat sectarian individuals on a municipal level must be aware of the current conversations taking place on all social platforms, to understand the narratives in play and utilize this information to respond quickly to the right audiences.

The full study” Lebanon parliamentary elections 2022: a look into the political parties’ partisans’ online behavior vis-à-vis alternative lists and candidates” conducted by InflueAnswers, with Skeys and FNF is available on the following link.

Ralph Baydoun is a strategic communicator, data analyst, and mediator with 11 years of experience in news production, campaigning, emergency communications, crisis management, and digital analysis experience in public and private sector as well as humanitarian and development. Baydoun was inspired by the 2019 Lebanese October uprising to combine his strategic communication work with new data driven approaches. He developed and implemented a monitoring method that captures narratives in Lebanon on multiple social platforms, which was then used to develop programming and build awareness about how narratives are formed. As a result, he has since launched his startup InflueAnswers, which has delivered a number of trainings, researches, OSINT investigations and strategies for local and international clients, one of which was the first of its kind data-research covering elections in Lebanon, titled “A look into the political parties’ partisans’ online behavior with respect to alternative lists and candidates”.





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