How a volunteer news brigade broke through Libya's Internet blackout

by Mohammad Al abdallah
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalism Basics

When the Egyptian revolution sent tremors through the Middle East, a group of young Libyans got ready for the impending shake-up in their own country.

They formed the Libyan Youth Movement, or Shabab Libya in Arabic, a team of 17 volunteers on a mission to tell the world about what was really going on there.

“We took on the role of raising awareness about events in our country as the Internet got shut down and people in Libya couldn't get their voices heard,” said Hoda Emneina, who represented The Libyan Youth Movement at a recent conference called “Network, Social Media and Political Change in MENA,” hosted by the University of Victoria.

The volunteer brigade, which launched a Twitter account February 5 that now has over 45,000 followers, started posting news and spreading information online about events in Libya. Like a traditional newsroom, their main tasks were to collect information, fact check, update the website and get news from sources on the ground, said member Esma Emneina. The idea of the website was to gather all the information and news about the revolution archived and available in one place, she added.

Building a credible news source in a country silenced by an Internet blackout and spotty electricity was a difficult, but not impossible, task.

Here are their tips for breaking barriers and getting the news out:

  • Don't rely on news from other sources, get your own sources.

  • Verify the information twice even if it likely to be true. Gaddafi's son Khamis has died five times!

  • Use the phone and talk in person when you can. Rely on first-hand witnesses as much as possible.

  • Don't post news that is not confirmed by reliable sources. You might miss out on a scoop but you are maintaining your reputation.

  • Building a reputation takes time. Work hard, be patient and committed.

  • Get a good communication system in place for those working abroad. You will use your phone network and the Internet more than anything else; you'll need reliable service where you work.

  • Lots of people will disagree with what you say. Be open to criticism and accept differences of opinion.

  • Building a good reputation with international media organizations takes time and hard work; don’t give up and don’t expect to be on CNN the first week.

  • Back up your work. Expect cyber attacks on your website; you may have to re-upload materials online.

When the revolution ended, it marked only the beginning of the project.

“Our goal now is to work inside Libya, to boost Internet penetration up from its current 5 percent by getting people involved in the online community and showing them the impact that the online community had on the revolution,” Emneina said.