Since the beginning of the Lebanese revolution, protesters relied a lot on social media in all its platforms. When TV channels weren’t covering protests, the revolutionaries streamed their protests live on Facebook and Twitter; they also formed several Whatsapp groups to organize marches, sit-ins, and gatherings.
Not only that, but the revolution also got its own online channel a while back. The revolutionaries couldn’t rely solely on television channels, and those concerned (the politicians) are still ignoring the revolution or accusing it of being exploited by Lebanon’s enemies.
So the protesters turned to social media to express themselves and to enforce the revolution’s demands, and they communicated with each other using Whatsapp since ordinary phone calls are very expensive in Lebanon.
Using this app, people express their frustration at the government and the crises. They talk about the government and the politicians. They share important governmental information or videos and pictures that show the police’s brutality against protesters.
They also use their Whatsapp groups to organize protests or call on each other to meet at a certain revolutionary square.
It has been convenient for them but can also work against them if the Lebanese Internal Security Forces’ Cybercrimes Bureau decides to practice surveillance over these messages.
It’s not like this is highly unpredictable or new. We have seen many activists being summoned to interrogation and arrested due to their online comments and/or posts that criticized the FPM political party and its leader.
Mohamad Najem, the executive director of the Social Media Exchange, a Beirut-based digital rights group, issued that social media is being used by the authorities to identify protesters.
He says that social media makes people vulnerable to such governmental acts since its users don’t have much protection and the law isn’t exactly fair towards them.
On the contrary, as stated by the Civil Liberties and International Human Rights Group, political leaders and officials use the law against the civilians when they deem certain posts and comments to be insulting or offensive to them.
Aya Majzoub, a Beirut-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, affirmed that Lebanese people can be sent to prison for up to three years if they defame public officials.
Lebanese citizens have come to know that as it has been happening to many activists.
Lebanese lawyers handling arbitrary arrests cases are accusing the government of going one step further in that context. They said that authorities are infiltrating Whatsapp chat groups, identifying the revolutionary organizers, and thus arresting them.
A Lebanese lawyer from Tripoli, Khaled Merheb, said that “the government is using social media to track protesters and leaders. They send their ‘guys’ to contribute to the Whatsapp groups.”
Many revolutionary organizers did confirm this. They say that government agents are joining in, monitoring, and then dispersing the groups’ members. They then find out who the members are and use their messages to arrest them.
It is now official that authorities are using social media to arrest the protesters. As for now, the Beirut Bar Association headed by Melhem Khalaf is still standing with the revolutionaries, assigning lawyers to the detained protesters, and now figuring out the government’s latest “game.”