Republic of Fear by Saja Mortada and Nour Moukhader
Organisation: ARIJ Network, Daraj Media
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 1 Dec 2020
Credit: Saja Mortada, Nour Moukhader
This data-driven investigation documents the increase in the suppression of freedom of expression on social media in the last few years in Lebanon. This suppression happens through summoning activists, journalists, and citizens for investigation or even filing cases against them for expressing their political, economic, social, or religious opinions. The investigation further documents the abuse and violation that these people are exposed to, specially in the last two years that witnessed a lot of political dissent against the ruling authority in Lebanon as well as a stifling economic crisis.
This investigation helped the Lebanese community understand the issue better, and made more people begin to advocate for freedom of expression and reduced suppression, and calling to enact a law that regulates publishing on the internet and protect people who express their opinions on social media. This was specially important because there was a lack of detailed data on this issue, so this investigation collected all of the needed data and analyzed it to provide a deeper understanding of the issue.
We used data scraping techniques to collect the data, then used Excel to analyze it, in addition to a number of data design tools. We worked on this investigation from A to Z without the help of a designer or a programmer.
What was the hardest part of this project?
We could not obtain the data even after we submitted 3 requests to 3 different official parties based on the right to information, so we had to collect all the data ourselves from human rights organization websites from Lebanon that documented these incidents. We also had to directly communicate with the people who were summoned and arrested to fill in the missing data. The data collection phase was difficult and required a lot of time and effort.
What can others learn from this project?
Firstly, that even if there is no data available to you, and even if your request to obtain data was rejected from the relevant official authorities, you can always find a solution and build your own database from what is available to you. There are always sources that can be looked up and worked on no matter how difficult it is.
Secondly, that you can create an entire story by yourself. You can collect the data, clean it, verify it, analyze it, design it, and write it, without needing a data specialist or scientist, a programmer, or a designer. You can achieve this by using the free technology available online, which is what we did in this investigation.