Terms of Reference for a Study

 

Study: Analysis of Disinformation in the Libyan Social Media Sphere and Possible Ways Forward

 

General Context

Libya has been struggling with political instability ever since long-term dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. Even though there are some signs of hope since a new Unity Government took power in 2021, the attempted democratic transition has proved more difficult than predicted in the recent years as armed groups built local power bases. While the confrontation on the actual battlefield has greatly varied in intensity in the past years, another battleground has become increasingly contested: Facebook. The social network is by far the most popular communication medium in Libya. More than two thirds of all Libyans have a Facebook account and regularly use the network to stay informed – a fact that all conflict parties have learned to use to their advantage. Disinformation on social media has become a “strategic weapon”.

The disinformation attempts are often far from sophisticated. However, many observers are worried that the methods of Libyan fake news-producers are getting increasingly advanced. Regarding its strategic location in an oil-rich region along the Southern Mediterranean shores many Arabic and international actors have been accused of having their own geopolitical interests in Libya. There are frequent reports of armed groups receiving logistic and financial support from outside the country.

Another challenge directly connected to the problem disinformation is the Libyan General Elections that are planned to take place at the end of the year. It is a long-anticipated moment that could mark the beginning of a new democratic chapter for the country. However, hand in hand with the hopes also come fears that the elections could lead to new conflicts. Democratic elections are a challenge not only in fragile contexts but also for matured democracies – especially in the new era of Social Media and rapidly spreading fake news. One of the most recent examples were the 2020 Presidential Election in the USA where narratives of a “stolen election” have caused a situation that eventually led to the attempted (and even partly successful) storming of the Capitol in Washington D.C.

While some initiatives have been emerging in recent months in Libya trying to monitor social media and debunking fake news, there has been relatively little research conducted about the background of this flood of disinformation. This is exactly the gap that the planned study is supposed to close. It will take a closer look at some notorious social media accounts spreading disinformation (influencers, dubious pages of Libyan institutions, media outlets and foreign actors etc.) and analyze characteristic patterns. While it will be impossible to uncover all possible links by mere desk-based research, the objective is to develop some informed theses and present fact-based research that sheds light on the structures behind disinformation campaigns in Libyan social media. Furthermore, possible strategies should be developed and discussed that fight the flood of disinformation and that goes beyond this social media phenomenon.

Experts might submit a proposal in pairs (non Libyan and national Libyan) or individually.

This study will be implemented in the framework of the EU funded project of Deutsche Welle Akademie “Media in Libya Stability through reconciliation”.

Expected Content

Part One: Assessment

This part gives a comprehensive overview of the problem of disinformation on social media in the Libyan context. Disinformation is used in a general sense and includes all types of false information which deliberately misleads the user. This can include any format (simple text-based post with wrong claims, manipulated photos or videos, articles, falsified document etc.) posted and/or shared on social media. Social media refers to the entirety of the most popular social networking platforms and services such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and WhatsApp. However, due to its highlighted role in Libya a focus should be placed on activities on Facebook.

  • What are the typical formats of social media disinformation targeting a Libyan audience?
  • How are the most visible actors involved?
  • How has the phenomenon been developing and what are typical trends?
  • What is similar/special in Libya compared to the problem on a MENA and/or international level.
  • What we know about possible political, social and psychological effects of disinformation in the Libyan context?

Part Two: Analysis

Based on the assessment of Part One, what theses can be derived regarding constituting patterns and structures behind these disinformation attempts? In how far can the problem be attributed to committed individuals and in how far do we see patterns that go along with typical Libyan conflict lines? Do we see evidence of foreign interference?

  • Can we cluster notorious accounts/individuals according to known conflict actors and/or conflict lines?
  • Are there semantic, stylistic and/or technological features that indicated concerted disinformation efforts beyond the individual accounts?
  • Are there indications of any form of direct political influence?
  • Is there any evidence of foreign involvement?

Part Three: Strategic Suggestions

Based on the previous assessment and analysis: What are promising media strategies to counter the detected forms of disinformation? These suggested strategies should not be purely academic but include concrete ideas how they could be executed in short-, medium- and long-term.

  • What are the current methods to fight disinformation in Libya (social media monitoring projects, media literacy initiatives, fact-checking-platforms etc.) and in how far are they successful?
  • What are new methods and strategies that could significantly reduce the amount and negative effects of disinformation and lead to a better informed and more resilient Libyan population?

Expected Scope

There should by two final versions of the study:

  • A longer version that fulfils all standard criteria of scientific work and comprises between 30-50 pages.
  • An essay version of around 6-8 pages that summarizes the matter in a more pointed and readable manner.

The work should be accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography that indicates all literature, conducted interviews and other forms of online/offline sources used to compile the study.

Required Profile

  • A proven academic background in Media and technologies.
  • A proven experience in working on the Media Landscape in the MENA Region.
  • An extensive knowledge in the topic of disinformation, hate speech and social media in Libya.
  • Excellent Arabic and English skills in speaking and writing.
  • Familiar with international standards for research papers/studies.

Delivery

The delivery of the final product shall be made on the 30.09.2021. The Expert/s are invited to submit a suggestion for the timeline respecting the deadline mentioned above. The timeline will be discussed with the Project team.

Payment

The payment of the total amount will be made upon submission of the invoice once the final product is approved. The expert/s have to have a bank account outside of Libya.

Application 

Experts are invited to submit a financial offer (per day) as well as a methodology and timeline for the study by the 29.06.2021 to the email address besma.mhamdi@dw.com