This is not a small figure, compared to Lebanon's population and the level of Internet service, which is still classified as "poor" in many areas of the country, especially those far from Beirut.
The number of Lebanese blogs is increasing rapidly, more than doubling over the last three years. This indicates a growing interest in blogging among the youth, who find that their ideas are not transmitted as they would like through traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television. Thus, these youth head to the digital world, which embraces their freedom and opens the door wide for them to say what they want and criticize who they want, without anyone directly monitoring them.
While Lebanese blogs did not garner attention until 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, today blogging is a reality that cannot be overlooked in Lebanon. It has a role in shaping public opinion and raising awareness about many of the political, social and economic issues to which traditional media does not afford the needed space.
Gaps in traditional media
Why do thousands of Lebanese citizens read blogs every day, while information and news is available to them through local TV channels, newspapers, radio stations and even news Web sites?
Those who follow blogs say that blogging provides them with written material or pictures that are not featured in traditional media. Susan Kheiruddin, a young Lebanese woman, says that there are blogs that allow her to read various political opinions regarding the daily reality that the Lebanese live. There are blogs that discuss topics related to the civil state, without there being any taboos.
The freedom available to blogs also applies to fields other than politics. Lebanese citizen Latif Namour expressed his appreciation for blogs that publish, for example, direct criticism of a specific theatrical or artistic work. He feels that there are those who share his concerns when he reads blogs about administrative corruption or the daily problems that citizens face on the roads, at work or in their family lives.
Namour does not hesitate to describe blogging as "citizen journalism." Herein lies the secret behind the overwhelming response to some blogs that speak to the Lebanese directly. The use of the word "some" instead of "all" is due to the presence of many blogs that merely reproduce what is written in newspapers, or post YouTube videos, without offering any unique or exclusive material.
Accountability and awareness
The first blog to be established in Lebanon was trella.org, in 1998. It is still regularly active today, due to the efforts of Lebanese blogger Imad Bazzi. This blog includes entries on a variety of topics, all characterized by an elevated tone and an audacity in putting forth topics.
Bazzi believes that the impact of the blogosphere was limited in the past because the majority of blogs were social, cultural or specialized in tourism, and the majority of bloggers were writing in foreign languages. However, the importance of blogging began to appear with the "independence uprising" (2005) and continued through the July War (2006) and the events of May 7, 2007, all the way to the Arab Spring uprisings. [Starting in 2005], a group of blogs emerged that addressed political topics in either formal or colloquial Arabic. These blogs began to gain readership and had an impact on their followers, especially the youth who had "become bored with the way traditional media addressed different topics," according to Bazzi.
These blogs, Bazzi said, "Opened up files that had been closed, held people accountable, raised awareness and pushed people to advocate for social and political issues, just like the path of blogging in Egypt and Tunisia." Bazzi said that blogging began to contribute to the formation of public opinion that put pressure on a number of issues such as torture in prisons, corruption in public administration and the bad services provided by some companies.
In light of the political partisanship characterizing Lebanon today, an obvious question arises about the ability of bloggers to maintain distance from this partisanship to offer a different political view to those who follow their blogs. In this context, Bazzi said that there is a large segment of blogs that are still outside of this partisan atmosphere, and they have a high number of followers — citizens who view them as an outlet removed from this vertical divide.
Regarding non-political blogs, Bazzi confirms that they have a key role in terms of the bold topics they address, such as the church, Islamic authorities, sex, racism and the daily concerns of citizens. Thus, the rhetoric of blogs differs from that of the traditional media, as it focuses on the concept of a civil state and social justice.
Closer to the people
Blog baladi is another blog that is very popular because of its diverse entries. There is active participation from the readers concerning each new post. Najib Mitri, a blogger from Blog Baladi, said that there are many active bloggers who have become a voice for Lebanese citizens, and their opinions are taken into account even in other forms of media. However, based on his personal experience, Mitri said that the influence of blogs is more social than political. This is because citizens search for bloggers who are transparent and not politically biased, according to Mitri. For this reason, Blog Baladi is not involved in political affairs and rather addresses matters concerning citizens by making the necessary contacts with ministers regarding outstanding issues to find solutions. In this way, the blog holds officials accountable for their work, not their political positions.
Blogger Elie Fares, from stateofmind13.com, agrees with what Mitri said, in terms of the role of blogs in provoking debate within society and providing space for followers to read varied and diverse views. Fares has his own political views, which he never hides, but he always draws attention to the other side and tries to criticize the performance of different political forces. According to Fares, when discussing any subject the results should not be presented as black or white. He notes that the role of the blogger is to show the presence of gray areas, which reflect on the political situation today.
The blogosphere today is transforming into a space for freedom for writing and reading, away from the censor's scissors in Lebanon, despite the fact that many bloggers are subjected to restrictions or pressure from time to time. However, "these [bloggers] have become akin to owners of media outlets in which they are both the writer and the editor," according to Bazzi. Herein lies the pleasure of blogging and its ability to break down walls and barriers to reach the hearts and minds of citizens.