Supporting Community Events: spotlight on ‘Social Media Exchange’ (SMEX) in Lebanon

This weekend, with support from mySociety, SMEX will be delivering a Wiki- editathon to update entries on politicians on the Arabic and English Wikipedias, following Lebanon’s first general election for nine years.

We asked Abed from SMEX few questions to understand more about the fascinating and important work they deliver.

A photo taken at the first Wiki event delivered by SMEX “Women Edit Wikipedia”

Hello Abed! We’re really excited to be working with SMEX to deliver a Wikimedia focused event. What is the issue your event hopes to address?

In May, Lebanon held its first parliamentary elections in nine years. A total of 976 candidates ran for only 128 seats, but many of them did not have Wikipedia pages. Those who did had pages available only in French.

Some elected candidates still do not have Wikipedia pages or only have a Wikipedia page in one language. With 76% of Lebanese using the internet and a frustrating lack of transparency from the Lebanese government, there is a greater and greater need for information about all candidates and elected deputies to be on Wikipedia in all languages.

Therefore, over two weekends, SMEX will bring hacktivists, academics, civil society practitioners, and journalists together for an editathon at Masaha, our event and lecture space. Participants will add entries for all the elected deputies, translate some of the entries that already exist into English and Arabic, and draft Wikipedia pages for prominent candidates who were not elected, if time permits. They will also check other deputies who have Wikipedia pages and try to update them with more relevant and recent information.

How are you hoping the event will help with your aim of more open structured data on Lebanese politicians for Wikidata?

We envision this editathon as a two-step process. At the first event, we will raise awareness about Wikipedia and Wikidata, and create Wikipedia pages for politicians that don’t yet exist. And at the second event, we will focus on Wikidata and aim to carry out tasks such as connecting existing Wikidata items to the new pages we have created on Arabic, French and English Wikipedias.

That all sounds great! Can you tell us a bit more about SMEX?

SMEX is a digital rights organisation that focuses on the intersection of technology and human rights. We address urgent needs in the Arab information society through:

  • Research: We still lack some basic knowledge in the region, when it comes to information society and digital rights issues
  • Advocacy: We initiate and collaborate on campaigns related to digital rights issues in the region
  • Training and events: From our research and advocacy, we design training materials and organise events to inform our constituency

Could you tell us a few highlights or examples of the work SMEX does?

We conduct evidence-based research on certain topics that aren’t tackled much in the region.

For example, we recently produced a report about telecommunications companies in the Arab Region to examine whether they published privacy policies and terms of services (only four out of 66 operators do both, and none in Lebanon).

We similarly collaborated with the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) to monitor the online speech of candidates.

More recently, we skimmed the EyePolice app launched by the Lebanese Ministry of Information and discovered its vulnerabilities.

Our most recent online campaign #ExpressionIsNotACrime (#التعبير_مش_جريمة) focused on a number of freedom of expression cases in Lebanon and abroad and provided the targeted audience with important security tips.

Separately, we run training/workshops/events at our space Masaha. We provide training about security and privacy, some of which are open to the public. We are currently organising the first regional digital rights gathering between 19 and 21 November, where we intend to bring together a diverse group from Arabic-speaking countries to tackle emerging issues related to technology, law, culture, communities, and art.

What are the challenges facing SMEX — and other organisations seeking to use digital tools for education in Lebanon?

SMEX dedicates the majority of its resources to spread knowledge around various digital rights issues, and turn topics related to freedom of expression, privacy, safety and security into educational materials.

Most of the time, we have challenges in finding the information we need, whether within government entities, or data from companies working in our region.

Is this the first time SMEX has used Wikimedia projects?

No, SMEX previously partnered with the Knowledge Workshop, Radical, and independent feminists to host an editathon, a collective editing workshop of Wikipedia.

The event provided a safe space for women to create new pages and translate content into Arabic, as well as expanding and enriching existing pages. The workshop, titled “Women Edit Wikipedia: Training and Editathon,” was the first women-only event of its kind to be held in Lebanon independently of Wikipedia.

How did you find out about mySociety’s efforts to support authoritative data on Politicians, to exist on Wikidata?

Open data activist Marc Farra put us in touch, he has partnered with SMEX to compile an online index of Lebanese politicians contact information.

Background to the event

This event has been funded thanks to a grant from the Wikimedia Foundation, helping mySociety’s drive to support the addition of increasingly authoritative data on the world’s politicians on Wikidata as part of the Democratic Commons.

Look out for posts on our other grantees, Wikimedia España and F0rk — coming soon

To follow the work of SMEX

Keep up with this amazing organisation via their website and social media.