Social media in Lebanon tells a tale of two different worlds

Special As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
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Special Vehicles queue up for fuel on the Beirut-Sidon highway, south of the Lebanese capital, amidt severe fuel shortages. (AFP file photo)
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Vehicles queue up for fuel on the Beirut-Sidon highway, south of the Lebanese capital, amidt severe fuel shortages. (AFP file photo)
Special As the shortages in food, fuel and medicine in Lebanon worsens, no end in sight could be seen as the country's political leaders could not get their acts together. (AFP file photo)
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As the shortages in food, fuel and medicine in Lebanon worsens, no end in sight could be seen as the country's political leaders could not get their acts together. (AFP file photo)
Special As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
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As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
Special As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
5 / 6
As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
Special As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
6 / 6
As Lebanon grapples with a myriad of crises, the fun-filled picture painted by the country’s young elites on social media belies the idea of a nation teetering on the brink of collapse. (Social Media/AFP)
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Updated 22 August 2021

Social media in Lebanon tells a tale of two different worlds

Social media in Lebanon tells a tale of two different worlds
  • Instagram posts continue to project an image of affluence and glamor at a time of deepening economic crisis
  • Clear fault line has emerged on social media, with Instagram and Twitter posts focusing on opposite aspects of life

BEIRUT: “How’s your Tuesday going?” reads the caption on an Instagram post, featuring a Lebanese woman sprawled on a sun lounger beside a glistening pool, showing off her tanned legs under a bright Beirut sky.

For most people in Lebanon, Tuesday was the same as any other day in recent months — hours spent waiting in line at the petrol station, queuing for subsidized food products at the supermarket, topped off by a long, sweltering night’s sleep on the balcony during yet another blackout.

But a brief scroll through the feeds and stories of numerous Lebanese Instagrammers reveals a world of lavish weddings, rooftop parties at venues where a bottle costs as much as a waiter’s monthly salary, and vacation getaways to Italy and Greece. At first glance, one would think the country is doing just fine. It is not.




As the shortages in food, fuel and medicine in Lebanon worsens, no end in sight could be seen as the country's political leaders could not get their acts together. (AFP file photo)

World Bank data shows that Lebanon’s economy contracted by 20 percent over the course of 2020, with a further 9.5 percent contraction forecast this year. This makes the country’s economic crisis one of the world’s most severe — in relative terms — since the mid-19th century.

Coupled with the collapse of the Lebanese pound, which has lost more than 90 percent of its value on the black market, households that could once afford an annual vacation to Turkey or Cyprus can now barely scrape together enough to put food on the table.

“I think there’s a natural need for validation, especially for people that come from societies where the value of the self and one’s worth depends highly on social perceptions,” Selma Zaki, a licensed Lebanese psychotherapist, told Arab News. “Social media gives us that attention and that validation.”

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Lebanon has had more than its fair share of problems over the years, from assassinations and car bombings to civil war and corruption, yet the Lebanese predilection for partying on regardless is globally renowned.

It has long been commonplace for members of the Lebanese elite to share social-media posts showing them in expensive clothes, attending weddings and birthday parties at luxurious venues and tucking into sumptuous meals.

With much of the country now grappling with chronic shortages of food, fuel and medicine, sweating in the darkness of another power outage, or surviving off charitable handouts, however, such displays of wealth and opulence, even online, are considered by most Lebanese to be in bad taste.




Vehicles queue up for fuel on the Beirut-Sidon highway, south of the Lebanese capital, amidt severe fuel shortages. (AFP file photo)

“I’m not sure a lot of people are taking into account the realities of others when they’re sharing such posts,” Zaki said. “They’re just thinking of their reality and they’re not empathizing with others, either because the reality can be (so) heavy and unbearable, or because they lack empathy.”

The phenomenon may well be a result of the perceived atomization of the Lebanese people’s sense of shared culture or identity. “People feel lonely in their suffering, and when we don’t talk about our collective suffering, they feel more isolated and alienated,” she added.

A clear fault line has emerged on social media, with Instagram users peddling a gaudy unreality and their Twitter counterparts speaking the unfiltered truth in 280 characters.

Beirut-based photographer Tamara Saade summed it up this way: “Lebanese Instagram: In between weddings and Greece, I go to the mountain and swim with dolphins … Lebanese Twitter: I haven’t had electricity or hot water in a week and can’t find Panadol … This country is nauseating. On every front.”

 

 

The contrast between assorted social-media platforms in Lebanon is so stark that comedian Farid Hobeiche, known better as FarixTube, decided to post a four-paneled image on Instagram that purports to convey the conflicting “realities.”

On Instagram, Hobeiche can be seen in a swimming pool; Facebook shows him in the dark carrying a candle (denoting the lack of electricity); on Twitter he is at a protest; and on TikTok, Hobeiche is dancing around irreverently.

 

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Farid hobeiche (@farixtube)

 

Many Lebanese wonder, though, whether people who can afford to go out and enjoy themselves should be shamed for doing so. After all, any form of spending, even conspicuous consumption, in the current dire situation can only be a good thing from a purely economic standpoint.

“Everyone is free to do whatever they want as long as they come down (to the protests) and fight with us,” Médéa Azouri, a columnist at Lebanese daily L’Orient le Jour, told Arab News. “The thing is, I don’t like the fact that they’re posting on social media. Do whatever you want, but not like this, in our faces.”

In an act of solidarity with their less-fortunate compatriots, some Lebanese have opted to tone down their social-media capers since the economic crisis took hold.

“I honestly feel guilty because I know most of these people,” Nehme Hamadeh, a Dubai-based marketing executive, told Arab News. “But I’m also shocked that this continues despite all the signs clearly showing that our country has collapsed. How can one show one’s face and act like everything is fine? It’s not fine.”

Many overseas Lebanese grapple with the same profound sense of guilt at being so far removed from the day-to-day struggles of their home country.

“I also feel stuck, because I can’t go and point fingers if I’m part of the problem. It’s all very confusing, but I do know I am mostly frustrated by, and disappointed with, those people who post so mindlessly,” Hamadeh said.

Lebanon’s season of endless suffering has taken a turn for the worse of late. More than 200 businesses were forced to close their doors over the mid-August weekend owing to prolonged blackouts. Those who fled the heat of Beirut for the cooler climes of the mountains faced power outages there too.

Next, on August 15, a tanker used by the Lebanese Army to distribute seized fuel to residents of Akkar, an impoverished area near the Syrian border exploded, killing 28 and wounding 79.




A man burned during a fuel tank explosion in Akkar, Lebanon, which is linked to the fuel shortage, lies in bed at the As-Salam Hospital in Tripoli city on August 15, 2021. (AFP)

Enraged protesters ransacked the Beirut home of Akkar’s member of parliament, Tarek El-Merehbi, and local residents banned all politicians from visiting the district. In the southern suburbs of Beirut, a petrol station was set on fire with a rocket-propelled grenade.

Dorothy Shea, the US ambassador to Lebanon, warned on Monday that the economy and its most basic services have reached the “precipice of collapse,” while politicians continue to bicker over concessions in cabinet.

For Lebanese Instagram users with a knack of filtering out the imperfections of real life, there is seemingly no limit to the amount of escapism that photos of parties at the beach and feasts in plush hotels can offer.

“If you didn’t post it on Instagram, did it even happen?” is a popular mantra of the social-media age. But in the case of Lebanon, it is the images that go unshared on Instagram that probably best reflect what is happening in the country today.

________________________

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris
Updated 02 July 2022

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris

India stops Kashmiri photojournalist from flying to Paris
  • "Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” Sanna Irshad Mattoo said
  • She was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category

NEW DELHI: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Kashmiri photojournalist said on Saturday that she was stopped by Indian immigration authorities from flying to Paris without giving any reason.
In a tweet, Sanna Irshad Mattoo said she was scheduled to travel from New Delhi to Paris for a book launch and photography exhibition as one of 10 winners of the Serendipity Arles Grant 2020.
“Despite procuring a French visa, I was stopped at the immigration desk at Delhi airport,” she said.
She said she was not given any reason but was told by immigration officials that she would not be able to travel internationally.
There was no immediate comment by Indian authorities.
Mattoo was among the 2022 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Feature Photography category for the coverage of the COVID-19 crisis in India as part of a Reuters team.
She has been working as a freelance photojournalist since 2018 depicting life in Indian-controlled Kashmir, where insurgents have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with neighboring Pakistan.
Journalists have long braved threats in the restive region as the government seeks to control the press more effectively to censure independent reporting. Their situation has grown worse since India revoked the region’s semi-autonomy in 2019.


Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America
Updated 01 July 2022

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America

Turkey blocks access to Deutsche Welle and Voice of America
  • An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday
  • Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content”

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s media watchdog has banned access to the Turkish services of US public service broadcaster Voice of America and German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, prompting complaints of censorship.
The Supreme Board of Radio and Television enforced a February warning to the two companies which air Turkish-language television content online to apply for a broadcast license or be blocked. An Ankara court ruled to restrict access to their websites late Thursday.
Neither website was available in Turkey on Friday. Deutsche Welle is German taxpayer-funded and Voice of America is funded by the US government through the US Agency for Global Media.
In a statement, Deutsche Welle said it did not comply with the licensing requirement because it “would have allowed the Turkish government to censor editorial content.”
Director general Peter Limbourg said this was explained in detail to the Turkish radio and TV board, abbreviated as RTUK.
“For example, media licensed in Turkey are required to delete online content that RTUK interprets as inappropriate. This is simply unacceptable for an independent broadcaster. DW will take legal action against the blocking that has now taken place,” Limbourg said.
The German government said it took note of the reports “with regret.”
“Our concern about the state of freedom of opinion and the press in Turkey continues,” government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said, adding that Germany is in a “regular, critical exchange” with Turkey on the issue.
Asked whether the German government can intervene in this case, Hebestreit noted that Deutsche Welle has said it plans to take legal action “and we have to wait for that.”
RTUK dismissed any criticism in a statement on its website Friday, saying that “no one needs to have uncertainties on the freedom of expression or press, worry unnecessarily or incriminate our Supreme Board that is doing its duties based on legal grounds.”
The RTUK statement added that had the media organizations “acted in line with regulations,” there wouldn’t have been access bans. It also promised to request from the court that the restrictions be revoked if the websites launch companies in Turkey and get licensed.
But Ilhan Tasci, a RTUK member from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, said he opposed the move to block the two foreign broadcasters. “Here is press freedom and advanced democracy,” he tweeted sarcastically.
The RTUK board is dominated by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, and regularly fines critical broadcasters.
Thursday’s move is based on an August 2019 regulation that says the RTUK would give 72-hour advance notice to unlicensed online media regarding when they had to apply and pay three months of licensing fees. Failure to do so could result in legal action against a media organization’s executives and access restrictions.
In February, RTUK said it identified three websites without broadcast licenses, which also included the Turkish services of Euronews. But Euronews said it argued that it did not broadcast live in Turkish or air visual bulletins and was therefore exempt from the licensing requirements.
The Journalists’ Union of Turkey called the decision censorship. “Give up on trying to ban everything you don’t like, this society wants freedom,” it tweeted.
Voice of America noted in February that while licensing for TV and radio broadcasts is a norm because broadcast airwaves are finite resources, the Internet does not have limited bandwidth. “The only possible purpose of a licensing requirement for Internet distribution is enabling censorship,” VOA said in a statement then.
State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted when the licensing regulation emerged in February that the US was concerned with RTUK’s “decision to expand government control over free press outlets.”
In response, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic noted that the US required Turkey’s state English-language broadcaster, TRT World, to register as a foreign agent under a law intended for lobbyists and public relations firms working for foreign governments. TRT said it was newsgathering and reporting like any other international media but had to register as a foreign agent in 2020.
“TRT abides by relevant regulations for its activities in the US Is that censorship? We expect the same from @VoATurkish and others,” Bilgic tweeted.
Turkey was rated “Not Free” for 2021 on the Freedom of the Net index by Freedom House. Hundreds of thousands of domains and web addresses have been blocked.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey at 149 out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index, saying “all possible means are used to undermine critics,” including stripping journalists of press cards, online censorship, lawsuits and arrests.


Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints
Updated 01 July 2022

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

Amazon to allow Prime users to unsubscribe in two clicks after EU complaints

BRUSSELS: US online retail giant Amazon has made it easier for users to cancel their subscriptions to its fast shipping club Prime with just two clicks, following complaints from consumer groups, the European Commission said on Friday.
European Consumer Organization (BEUC), the Norwegian Consumer Council and the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue took their grievances to the EU executive in April last year.
They said users had to go through numerous hurdles such as complicated navigation menus, skewed wording and confusing choices, to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime.
The company will now allow users to unsubscribe from Amazon Prime with two clicks via a prominent and clear ‘cancel button’, the Commission said.
The changes will apply to all EU websites and for desktop devices, mobiles and tablets with immediate effect.
“Consumers must be able to exercise their rights without any pressure from platforms. One thing is clear: manipulative design or ‘dark patterns’ must be banned,” Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said in a statement.


Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist
Updated 01 July 2022

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist

Media watchdog sounds alarm over Burkina journalist
  • Media watchdog calls on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats
  • Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced in the past seven years

OUAGADOUGOU: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on authorities in Burkina Faso to act after one of the country’s most prominent journalists received death threats.
Ahmed Newton Barry, a former TV president and ex-editor of L’Evenement newspaper who now works as a current affairs commentator, was targeted in an audio clip circulating among WhatsApp groups, the watchdog said late Thursday.
The speaker in the clip identifies Barry by name, describes him as a “terrorist” and says a hundred people would assault his home.
“We are going to set fire to it and then destroy everything and collect the rubble that is piled up and leave the ground vacant,” the clip says, according to the CPJ.
Barry told the CPJ the threat may be related to comments he made on a TV program in which he described the Malian government as working with Russian mercenaries.
Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in Johannesburg, urged the authorities to carry out a thorough investigation and ensure Barry’s safety.
“The security of journalists in Burkina Faso is tenuous enough without their having to worry about a mob being provoked to attack their homes,” she said.
Local press associations have also condemned the threats and urged the country’s junta-dominated authorities to investigate.
One of the world’s poorest countries, Burkina Faso is in the grip of a nearly seven-year-old crisis sparked by jihadist raiders crossing from neighboring Mali.
Thousands of people have been killed and nearly two million displaced.


Serie A reaches TV rights deal with Abu Dhabi Media

Serie A reaches TV rights deal with Abu Dhabi Media
Updated 01 July 2022

Serie A reaches TV rights deal with Abu Dhabi Media

Serie A reaches TV rights deal with Abu Dhabi Media
  • For the next three seasons, Abu Dhabi Media, an Emirati public body, has been awarded the rights for a minimum total amount of $79 million
  • In the absence of a satisfactory offer in its call for tenders last year, the Italian League had developed its own Youtube channel in Arabic

ROME: Serie A on Thursday accepted the offer of TV platform Abu Dhabi Media to broadcast the Italian league in the Middle East and North Africa after more than a year without a broadcaster in this region.
For the next three seasons, Abu Dhabi Media, an Emirati public body, has been awarded the rights for a minimum total amount of $79 million, the Italian League announced.
To this guaranteed minimum income may be added any additional revenue linked to the number of subscribers that Italian football will generate on the platform, a spokesperson for Serie A told AFP.
In the absence of a satisfactory offer in its call for tenders last year, the Italian League had developed its own Youtube channel in Arabic to offer matches free of charge.