E-activists: from web surfers to web actors

by Rita Chemaly
Beirut - Blogs are becoming increasingly popular in Lebanon as they cover the political and social landscape, expressing society’s demands. As a result, blogs and online groups have become a true political tool in the hands of civil society to promote causes online.

Many web actors, mainly bloggers, are working to mobilise internet users to action on issues affecting citizens. “Social justice”, “democracy” and “mobilisation” are key words in the vocabulary of Lebanese bloggers. And the environment, national heritage and human rights are key themes.

Through their blogs, posts or comments, these bloggers and “e-activists” hope to trigger change in Lebanon - toward a real democracy, based on reinforcing citizen participation in political decisions.

For instance, Lebanese e-activists have recently taken action against the construction of a parking lot under an old park in Beirut, which would result in chopping down the park’s aged trees because of their deep roots. They initiated the “Saving the Sanayeh Garden” campaign through an online petition and issued a call to citizens to protest through a “sit-in” in the garden.

Lebanese e-activists also mobilised groups in favour of preserving old buildings or sites that are important parts of Lebanon’s national heritage by creating lobbying groups and urging members of parliament to create a law to protect these places. In one instance, these e-activists convinced Lebanon’s Culture Minister Salim Warde to head a new initiative aimed at getting Parliament to draft a law which, if passed, would protect some of Lebanon’s oldest and most endangered buildings.

To promote human rights, Lebanese bloggers have organised an online campaign against arbitrary detentions and the improvement of detention centres. There have also been campaigns to establish the rights of Lebanese women married to foreign men, who currently cannot pass their nationality to their husbands and children.

These are just a few examples of concerned citizens taking action, having their say, being heard and mobilizing citizens – all through the power of the internet.

Using an online platform accessible to everyone, blogs provide politicians with the opportunity to read citizens’ reactions to some of their policy decisions. Passive receivers of policy in the past, citizens have become active users of new technologies to influence policy. French author Francis Pisani, who focuses on technology and communication, says “web surfers” have now become "web actors".

Bloggers are only one part of a new trend towards a participative culture for citizens. In January 2010, 20 young Lebanese bloggers decided to come together and form a coalition. These internet users, including students, wanted to prove that they could change society for the better through activism. This belief led to the creation of the Lebanese Bloggers Organization (lebloggers.org) – with the aim of generating social change through an electronic revolution.

The Lebanese Bloggers Organization’s mission (as stated in their charter) is to contribute to the creation of communities which will trigger positive changes in Lebanese society. The bloggers in the organisation decided to use the 2010 municipal elections as a platform, following the elections and opening an online information portal where they posted messages, photos and videos about the campaign.

These bloggers provided uncensored information to their internet audiences, showing behind-the-scenes coverage of elections, and even election abuses committed by politicians and their security guards. For example, they revealed a security agent helping citizens vote in the voting area, which is prohibited by law.

Their objective is to provide non-biased, exhaustive information that is not usually presented by the mainstream media or by the country’s political parties.

Blogs are creating a revolution. In Lebanon and throughout the Arab world, these platforms provide a space for youth who do not belong to the political class with a mechanism to express their views on topics that affect them – from freedom of expression to protecting the environment, as well as various other topics. Blogs are transforming inactive but concerned citizens into active players who can express themselves, ultimately changing the societies in which they live.


* Rita Chemaly is a social and political science researcher, and author of Spring 2005 in Lebanon: Between Myths and Realities. She won the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press in 2007 and blogs at ritachemaly.wordpress.com. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 13 July 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
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Other articles in this series

Blogs go beyond traditional media to bridge divides by Hisham Khribchi
North African bloggers get creative to evade censorship by Sarra Grira
Blogging: from spectator to global citizen by Emna Ben Jemaa
Arab world needs education in new media by Rachid Jankari
Lebanese bloggers: pioneers in the Arab world by Tony Saghbini