Fake News War: In Libya, Battles Also Rage On Social Media
Faizan Hashmi 3 months ago Thu 18th April 2019 | 05:49 PM
On Libya's front lines, fighters often hold a gun in one hand and a smartphone in the other, using their cameras in the propaganda war
Facebook has become the main online battleground, where both sides weaponise photos and video footage -- both real and fake.
Images of wounded, killed or imprisoned fighters are immediately published by one side or the other as they try to prove their supremacy on the battlefield.
When rockets slammed into residential areas in the south of the capital Wednesday, killing six people, both sides, predictably, blamed each other.
While few Libyans trust the tv channels, they now also sift through images, fake news and propaganda online, from both Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) and forces backing the internationally recognised unity government.
Last week, unity government spokesman Colonel Mohamad Gnounou even accused Haftar's forces of "infiltrating certain places, taking pictures and then withdrawing" so they could claim online to be in control of a particular site or neighbourhood.
- Fake news war - This week, an American who had become an unlikely celebrity in Libya took to the Internet to deny reports by Haftar's LNA that he had piloted a Libyan fighter plane as a GNA "foreign mercenary pilot".
Warring factions have used fake content to discredit their enemies or hit their morale.
"It is true that we have a huge wave of misinformation spread through social networks," said Libyan analyst Emad Badi.
"Each party has invested considerably to influence the media to adopt a narrative that is favourable to them".
In two of the films, one side claimed that its rivals had laid down their weapons and surrendered.
A third clip, whose authorship remains a mystery, showed the unlikely scene of fighters halting combat and embracing each other, crying "united Libya".
- Troll armies - Social media users have sought to fill the vacuum left by mass media, as each Libyan television station has long chosen its side and tends to broadcast videos or photos without verification if they appear to support their stance.
"Libyan channels are either late or so biased that it's comical if you're not on the same side." Some internet users have taken on the role of military experts, pointing to maps and images of specific weapons to support their take on the truth.
"Anonymity on social networks encourages some people to engage in aggressive and hateful speech and even incitement to crime," said Mayss Abdel-Fattah, 26, a sociology student at the University of Zawiya.
"These 'bad' users of social networks feel that no-one will come to hold them accountable, which is very often the case in Libya."Despite the toxic posts that flood social networks, there are also rays of light that cut through the online fog of war.
A group of young Libyans in 2016 launched the "SafePath" group which now has 162,000 members on Facebook and provides a crucial public service: it updates users on which roads to avoid because of fighting.