Social networks

Facebook is the preferred social media platform. More than 90 percent of the total Internet users subscribe to Facebook. It is followed by Youtube, even though Libya does not have that many Youtubers and users consume international and regional content instead. Internet is mainly used in Libya for socialising, secondly for news and thirdly for entertainment. Libyan youths from both genders spend most of their time online on Facebook, following news, browsing through videos on Youtube or using other instant messaging apps such as NimBuzz and Whatsapp. Males are more likely to have a Facebook account (63 percent) than women (52 percent). Those who are not likely to have Facebook accounts are usually those who are disconnected from the Internet in general. They can be summarised in two main groups: Those of older age, who make up the majority of the offline community but are also beginning to learn how to use the technology thanks to the spread of smartphones, and those of low income and low education, below secondary school, who represent a very small percentage of the overall population (Altai Consulting, 2013).

Facebook and YouTube are the two preferred international websites in Libya. There were 3,500,000 Facebook users in December 2017, with a penetration rate of 54.1 percent. Slightly more than half of the overall population is registered on Facebook, with males and youths having a slightly higher access rate to the social network. Once browsing Facebook, Libyans interact with each other, look to inform themselves on news and events. Socially, Facebook is a place where social barriers tend to vanish and where men and women can interact freely and learn to know each other. Politically, Facebook is a place where ideas are discussed very freely and without taboos, contrarily to other media. But the lack of restrictions causes further polarisation and increases the grievances. Some Facebook pages amplify the rise of distinct regional, ideological, ethnic and political identities. Content and narratives on social media pages differ greatly in the various parts of the country, and they address issues from different angles and points of view, sometime opposite, creating a lot of tension and aggravating grievances. For example an armed group led by Ibrahim Jedran shut down the oil production in 2013 and was driven out after 3 years by Marshal Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). When the armed group returned a year later and attacked the oil field, a large number of social media pages especially in the eastern parts of Libya called them terrorists and invaders, while others in Misrata and other parts of the country far from LNA influence, addressed them as avengers wishing to go back to their hometown. Fake Facebook pages and identity theft are two major issues, creating further division to the point that officials in Libya wonder if it’s beneficial or detrimental to have Facebook censored during these sensitive times. Yet again, it’s the government’s and politicians’ main platform to rally their supporters. Interestingly, social media activists receive a lot of attention from the government, at times being offered jobs as media advisors and spokespeople of different departments.

Twitter is viewed differently in Libya, being more an elite gathering of academics, journalists and activists who usually tweet in English. This shows that Twitter is mainly used by well-educated youths as opposed to the more diverse and widely used Facebook, making it easier to debunk fake news on Twitter. Furthermore qualitative research by Altai Consulting (2013) shows that 26 percent of the Libyan population declared having one or more Facebook accounts. Among internet users, 58 percent of youth users have multiple Facebook accounts for different purposes, eg work, study, or pursuing relationships.

Social media activists are viewed as popular and very influential but this comes with its burdens, as social media are constantly monitored by the security authority and activists are often reported to authorities by other social media activists who are allied with armed groups of security bodies. Many activists were assassinated, like 18 year-old activist Tawfik Bensaud and his 17 year-old friend Sami Al-Kwafi who were killed in an attack by an armed men in Benghazi in 2014, and others were kidnapped. Some were detained and then released but forced to leave the country for posting controversial comments or sharing news in criticism of any of the factions.