Webinar summary: "Freedom of expression and the digital space: how do young people engage online and offline ️?"

November 14, 2023: 5 p.m.-6 p.m.

Summary of the exchanges

Host: Laetitia EL HADDAD, Coordinator of the Jeunesses Med network, REF
Moderator: Sondos FAQIH (Palestine)
Speakers:  Ali MAHFOUD (Libya); Nidaa BASSOUMI (Palestine) 

Ali MAHFOUD (Libya) – journalist and vice-president of the MED association 
Ali left Libya in March 2022 for France due to the situation of freedom of expression in the country and the attack on his organization "Tanwir". When he was in Libya, he worked with many organizations, some governmental and some international, on several projects on the themes of immigration, freedom of expression, gender equality... In his work, he tried to bring the voice of young Mediterraneans to their situation, their challenges, etc. Today, he is a member of the association "MED: Mediterranean Student Dialogue" in France which has the idea of letting people express themselves freely about their experiences and putting the media at the heart of all the issues we face in our lives.  Within the association, anyone wishing to testify, whether anonymously or not, is welcomed without discrimination. The objective of the association is to produce various media content (podcast, video, articles, etc.) in order to deliver a clear and transparent message. Ali expresses the importance of freedom of expression and positions himself as being able to support people who need to express themselves in any way. In Libya, giving one's opinion freely without anonymity is very dangerous because one runs the risk of being arrested by this or that political party or this or that security group. The situation is more or less different in the southern Mediterranean, but the entire population still faces the same lack of freedom of expression. During the Arab Spring revolutions, the people of the southern Mediterranean had hoped that this situation would change. However, they are now facing a narrowing of freedom of expression.
Nidaa BASSOUMI (Palestine) – activist from a centre that deals with digital rights
The centre in which Nidaa works was created on the initiative of young Palestinians after noticing that there were great violations of digital rights on social networks. Indeed, many social media companies (such as Meta) have economic relations with Israel and some people in the Israeli government have important positions within these same companies and thus do everything to silence the voice of Palestinians on the networks. Nidaa explains that like the majority of Palestinians, she cannot express herself freely on social networks: her publications and accounts are deleted, limits on publications are imposed on her... This censorship has been particularly noticeable since 7 October. For example, on Messenger, privacy was the victim of very serious violations: it was not possible to share certain videos on the network. This censorship is carried out in an illegal and disproportionate manner and the treatment of content is different from one "camp" to another. Indeed, while Meta said it had removed 750,000 pieces of content related to the situation in Palestine on its networks, the Nidaa center found more than 20,000 messages circulating among Israelis calling for the death, massacre and genocide of Palestinians without these being removed by Meta. Palestinians are also victims of another violation: the arrest of journalists. 26 journalists were arrested in the West Bank for their posts on social media and in traditional media, in addition to 150 civilians arrested for the same offences. A new law was also created making it a criminal offence to simply watch videos relating to Palestinian factions under penalty of fines and up to a year in prison. Israel's telecommunications ministry has also said it wants to shut down the internet entirely in Gaza, which is a complete violation of the right to access information. The digital violation and stifling of the Israelis' provocative information and messages is an attempt to kill the Palestinians and the future of the country because the future of Palestine will be written on the archives of what is happening today. However, all these archives are being erased on social networks. For Nidaa, the oppression of Palestinians' freedom of expression is as dangerous as military action because when you forbid a people to say that they are victims of genocide, you are giving free rein and encouraging violations. 

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