In a new working paper, Shelby Grossman, Katie Jonsson, Nicholas Lyon, and Lydia Sizer assess the role of foreign influence in Libyan social media. The abstract is below, and the full paper is available for download.
Slanted Narratives, Social Media, and Foreign Influence in Libya
Abstract: The rise of social media has lowered barriers for both creators and consumers to engage with mass communication. In fragile contexts such as Libya where social media penetration is high, foreign social media outlets with political interests can use these platforms to influence the country's volatile political climate. In this study, we assess how social media content varies by the country of the information producer. To do so, we create a dataset of the universe of Facebook posts about a strongman’s recent attack on Tripoli (N=16,662) and leverage a Facebook feature that provides Page administrator locations. We find that more than half of the posts originated from outside Libya and that there is a substantively meaningful relationship between the location of content producers and a post's slant: posts from countries aligned with the Tripoli-based government are biased in that direction and posts from countries aligned with the eastern-based strongman are biased toward his forces. However, many Pages are not slanted: the correlations are instead driven by a smaller number of hyperpartisan Pages. Our findings have implications for our understanding of how social media content - especially from abroad - shapes citizen perceptions of the legitimacy of competing political actors.