Election Observation Network Releases Findings On Liberia’s Facebook Usage

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Monrovia – Liberia Elections Observation Network, LEON, says it has been monitoring the Facebook accounts and statements in the news, of 42 organizations, government institutions and key individuals from May 1 to May 31, noting incidents of hate speech, incitement to violence, or which posts called for peace. 

The group says people engaging in negative comments on other people’s posts to the list of individuals being monitored. LEON did also look at Twitter accounts but these were mostly inactive.

LEON notes that there is negative and hateful language being used by both supporters of the planned protests and those against. The heat of these exchanges has increased in both the number of posts and intensity of language issued in the second half of the month. 

At the same time, the network says there have been a number of posts calling for calm and to let the protest happen peacefully which is to be commended. A number of people posting on the Facebook pages of key politicians are based in the US and will not be affected by the consequences of their posts.

LEON has therefore called upon “people to desist from hate speech”, adding that, “whilst people have a right to express their opinions they should not use language that attacks people or incite others to attack people”. 

Across the sites, LEON observed that 125 posts that could be considered as either negative or hate speech with 25 posts calling for people to be peaceful.

“Much of the dialogue online during May revolved around the June 7 protest, while other issues that were common concerned staff of LINSU having been photographed carrying a firearm and the General Auditing Commission Report into the US$25 Million Mop up exercise conducted by the government’s Technical Economic Management Team. 

There were no specific incitements to cause violence, however, the tone of posts, in general, has become more negative through the month. 

Calls for peace came from different Church groups, the main parties, and President Weah.

Posts were widely shared and commented on. Henry Costa, Fubbi Henries, the President, CDC, ANC, and Yekeh Kolubah all averaged over 500 shares showing how quickly messages can spread. 

Darius Dillon, Mo Ali, Yekeh Kolubah and the youth groups were all frequent commentators on the Facebook pages of others. There were also a large number of negative comments coming from Liberians in the diaspora. 

Two main narratives emerged through the negative posts: the first was people who are concerned about the protests will further increase the tension in the country, scare away investors and that dialogue is the way to solve the challenges. 

The other narrative is from citizens who feel that the government has not yet taken their concerns seriously and that protests are the only way to get the government to deal seriously with these issues.  

Negative language included: accusing the government of being thieves, corrupt, incompetent and shielding people; calling members of the Council of Patriots war criminals; calling citizens’ stupid; saying the President should stick to football. One particularly hateful post attacked a prominent politician’s sexuality. 

A notable divide emerged between the Liberian National Students Union (LINSU) and the Campus-based Political Party Student Unification Party (SUP), which has resulted in a number of hate messages being exchanged between the groups. 

The Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON), launched in May 2017 is a platform of four Liberian Civil Society Organizations: The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Liberia Crusaders for Peace (LCP), Federation of Liberia Youth (FLY) and National Union of Organizations for the Disabled (NUOD) with the goal to meaningfully contribute to democratization processes in Liberia. 

LEON observed the 32017 elections with over 1000 observers and has observed subsequent by-elections. LEON has a core team in Monrovia and observers stationed in all 73 electoral districts of Liberia. It will be observing the Montserrado by-elections and is currently advocating on electoral reform issues. 

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