By: Huda Biuk
Social networking is an interesting phenomenon in Libya. From having a low profile in the country prior to the 2011 revolution to now many Libyans managing more than one profile,
Facebook assumes a very large Wi-Fi bandwidth consumption as well as most of the social media spotlight.
The world witnessed the role Facebook played in legitimizing the 2011 revolution, sometimes being the only news source of a particular protest or crime committed by the former regime that was caught on camera.
Facebook, with twitter following, took the lead role on keeping the country and the outside world, in the loop about Libya during its most brutal hours under the former regime. And, it gained itself an almost scholarly credibility that still rings true for many Libyans even one year after Liberation.
As someone who grew up abroad I knew Facebook to be a social networking service, and used it myself as a way of connecting with friends and family.
Abroad, it usually plays an important yet light-hearted social role where you can post a random status, update friends on any significant events in your life, or you may simply enjoy sharing photos with long-distance friends.
Facebook does not always play the same role in Libya, however. After being introduced on a national scale as a news source during the revolution, Facebook has evolved for many Libyans as a political stage where Libyan bureaucracy and government are discussed and debated.
Facebook has a special place in many Libyan hearts for the space it has carved for free speech.
After experiencing suppression for over four decades and fearing speaking a single word in opposition to government, Facebook has alleviated that completely.
Information on the current status of the country is now shared every day, sometimes even quicker than media sources can headline it as breaking news. People read and too often believe what is written.
Though Facebook is mainly meant to provide a means of individual profiling, many Libyans use Facebook for the exact opposite purpose and use fake names and photos to display on their profile.
Some may argue there is plenty of justification for not displaying very personal information on a very public social networking website. Regardless of the reasoning, remaining anonymous is not only accepted but expected in Libya.
It is understandable to prefer to keep private information private. The question which poses itself is, why join a social networking service then?
What is complicated about anonymity on Facebook in Libya is that serious topics are often discussed. This is mainly problematic due to the general way that Facebook is perceived and credited.
Many times what is written can be inaccurate and unjustified. Sometimes, it seems that the only type of private information being shared is that shared about public figures.
These cases of near slandering not only abuse free speech, but threaten to devalue that right in the minds of Libyans in the long-run.
I remember being surprised the first time Facebook was quoted in my presence. In a discussion where the legitimacy of a specific piece of information was questioned, and the source of that information was requested, the following response was given, “It is on Facebook. You can even check it yourself.”
This column entry is not to insinuate that Libyans are naive to believe whatever they read, but it is to remind ourselves we each have a responsibility to pass along only the information that we have the ability to prove.
We must also remember that information without a source trail is just talk. And, that perhaps Facebook is not the best place to discuss all things simply because of its popularity and accessibility.
(This article was originally published in Tripoli Post on 11/5/2012)