For Lebanon’s parliamentary elections in June 2009, citizen media hadn’t quite achieved the critical mass it needed to mobilize. True, the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) mobilized more than 2,000 SMS-enabled monitors and Sharek961 implemented the first instance of the crowdsourced crisis-mapping application Ushahidi, but beyond these interventions and a handful of existing bloggers, there wasn’t much to look for online in the way of alternate, grassroots elections coverage.
Then, five days after Lebanon’s vote, there was Iran. Twitter adoption spiked, as we all know by now, and the awareness of social media expanded exponentially, and what seems now to have been a latent Lebanese (and Syrian and Jordanian, to a large extent) online community began to take shape.
Now here we are, not quite a year later, and bloggers are getting ministerial permission to cover the vote and dispatching roving teams with Flip cams and mobile phones. More than 50 women candidates for municipal office have their own website. And a new Arabic-English portal aggregates news about the elections as well as provides a place for civil society actors to publish their elections-related projects. Full disclosure: SMEX is involved in all three of the above initiatives.
But wait, there’s more: Young reporters will write about the elections at youth media outlet Hibr and another initiative “powered by Hibr” deals specifically with ballot and voting process reform. We learned at the launch of EngageLebanon.org that the Institute for War and Peace Reporting will be working with youth to develop their journalism skills to produce newsletters in their municipalities.
We also want to congratulate the Ministry of the Interior for an informative and nice-looking elections website in Arabic, English, and French. The Where Do I Vote? section seems to be ready in Arabic but not in and English. Fair enough. But they’re still not Tweeting yet. Nevermind, LADE is, demonstrating the organization’s potential to make a 180-degree change from last year. And you can be sure that innovative and Middle East–focused news and photo platforms like Meedan and Demotix will certainly be publishing their share of citizen-generated coverage this month.
- EngageLebanon.org: Tweets from @EngageLeb, uses the hashtag #engageleb
- Hibr.me: Tweets from @hibrme, uses the hashtag #hibrme
- LADEleb.org: Tweets from @ladeleb, uses the hashtag #LADE
- Lebloggers: Uses the hashtag #lebloggers
- Shariky.org: Uses the hashtag #womencan to tweet about women candidates
For most of the citizens participating in these initiatives, one aim is clear: they want to report on the elections as they see them, rather than as the hyperpoliticized media here portray them. For example, Lebloggers (their website should be up this weekend), a new group of Lebanese bloggers of all political stripes, openly hope that their aggregated reports will be a model for the mainstream media in how to provide balanced reportage.
The big question now is, will the mainstream Lebanese media—way behind the curve in adopting the internet and opening up to their audiences—be watching?
The polls will open this Sunday, May 2, in Mount Lebanon; followed by Beirut and Bekaa on May 9; a break on May 16; the South on May 23; and the North on May 30.