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What role does Facebook play in Libya's civil war?

Members of the self-styled Libyan National Army fire mortars during clashes with militants in Benghazi's central Akhribish district, 19 July 2017
Members of the self-styled Libyan National Army fire mortars during clashes with militants in Benghazi's central Akhribish district, 19 July 2017

ABDULLAH DOMA/AFP/Getty Images

This statement was originally published on advox.globalvoices.org on 6 September 2018.

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Earlier this week, Facebook was blocked in the Libyan capital Tripoli and surrounding cities, as fighting between armed militias raged. On 3 September, Reuters reported that the blocking started around noon local time, and that while residents were able to access other websites, Facebook was inaccessible.

It remains unclear who blocked the social media platform and for what reasons. Al Jazeera reported that the state-owned Libyan Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Company, which owns the country's only two internet providers, said "a lack of security had led to outages" but did not directly address the blocking of Facebook.

Like elsewhere in the region, Facebook is by far the most popular social media platform in the sparsely populated country of six million people. While Facebook played a key role in 2011 to mobilize protests against the regime of now-deceased dictator Muammar Gaddafi, different armed groups vying for control have since been using the platform to find, threaten and silence critics and opponents, engage in hate speech and other illegal activities such as arms and human trafficking. A recent investigation by the New York Times showed that "practically every armed group in Libya" had its own Facebook page.

The New York Times found evidence of military-grade weapons being openly traded, despite the company's policies forbidding such commerce. Human traffickers advertise their success in helping illegal migrants reach Europe by sea, and use their pages to drum up more business.

Read the Advox Netizen Report.

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