If you are Lebanese, live in Lebanon, or simply follow Lebanese politics then your phone has probably been bustling with all sorts of notifications for the past two weeks.
You open WhatsApp to listen to a forwarded three-minute-long voice note in which a random person enlightens you with alleged updates on the ongoing revolution. You move onto Facebook to find your timeline flooded with posts citing so-called "credible sources," coupled with footage that eventually turns out to be from a whole different time and place. Seeking credibility, you check media outlets only to realize that some of them are also complicit in the deed, having thrown media ethics out the window to further their affiliates' political agendas. Thankfully, you have some *woke* people on Twitter who are spreading awareness and battling fake news tooth and nail.
Fake news amidst a sensitive political scene is no joke; political factions have been resorting to misinformation to influence public opinion, demonize revolutionaries, and find ways to exploit the circumstances to their advantage.
From claims of a nationwide internet shutdown, to ones alleging the Army’s General Directorate had decided to announce a state of emergency, and of course, the endless talk about the value of the Lebanese pound and the status of the Lebanese economy, there is no bound to the list of fake news pieces that have been shared lately.
Fake news made it all the way to CNN's Arabic website, which published an alleged resignation letter credited to former Minister of Interior Raya Hassan during the first days of the revolution. The letter turned out to be false.
False or inaccurate information, whether shared on purpose or out of mere gullibility, has already taken a toll on the uprising and served the ruling class' attempts to spread fear and paranoia among the public.
According to the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), Lebanon has witnessed misinformation and fake news long before the current uprising. IFCN emphasizes the need to "develop a fact-checking ecosystem" in the country and the region in general. The network notes that the problem "could be the lack of public data and the risks related to pushing the limits of freedom of speech in the region."
The repercussions of misinformation, on one hand, and silence of official sources, on the other, were prevalent when locals spread rumors about a drop in the value of the Lebanese pound over the past two months. Many locals rushed to withdraw their bank deposits in U.S. dollars, spreading panic among bankers, companies, and citizens.
"While people were madly hitting their savings accounts, the Lebanese Central Bank remained silent, allowing for plenty of room to rumors and hoaxes," according to Roula Mikhael, executive director of the Maharat Foundation, a Beirut-based NGO working on media development and freedom of expression.
Thankfully, people in Lebanon have become increasingly aware of the prevalence of fake news, and they have been shedding light on the alarming phenomenon: