Relative to its closest neighbours Libya and Algeria, Tunisia is something of a bulwark of stability in North Africa. Almost a decade on from the “Arab Spring” wave of demonstrations and protests, conflicts that changed the face of the region forever, it has resumed tourism (notwithstanding pandemic restrictions), and its official government has a semblance of control over the small nation.
The role of social media in the revolutionary wave between 2010 and 2012, remains, like the movements themselves, a highly contested topic. However, it is clear that they played an important- if highly varied- role in facilitating change in many areas. Yet, the promising role of social media in information and democracy in the region, including in Tunisia, has largely diminished in recent years as from Beijing to Beirut, it has increasingly become clear that technology in the hands of oppressive state forces is just as likely to hamper societal flourishing as it is to facilitate it. No clearer is this fact than in Tunisia’s recent trajectory.
Earlier this month Wired.com published an exclusive report on how Tunisian police unions use Facebook to doxx, harass, and “out” LGBTQ people after a protest in January.
Journalist Layli Foroudi wrote: “Whereas their [Policing Union] pages used to be mainly centred on social and work-related demands – such as salaries and career progression – they’re now being used to attack critics. Analysis of 40 Facebook posts and messages show union pages being used to target protesters and human rights groups.”
A video of one protestor, Hamma, garnered hundreds of thousands of likes as a result of shares from such Policing Union pages, and resulted in a torrent of abuse being directed toward him. Many such people included in these hostile social media posts are routinely harassed in the street by police, and one woman was forced to quit her job in the fear that customers would recognise her.
Saif Ayadi, an activist with Tunisian Association for Justice and Equality (DAMJ) told Foroudi that “The unions are especially targeting activists from Tunisia’s LGBTQ movement…Along with football ultras, the LGBTQ community experiences the most police violence.” Ayadi himself has been arrested four times since October.
In October 2020 in which Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly drafted a law seeking to expand legal protections for domestic security forces and customs officers after being shelved back in 2015. These Tunisian policing unions were founded in April 2011 after Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was removed from power, but have hardly functioned as a safeguard for the general public. In March 2018, Amnesty International, along with 15 other Tunisian and international human rights organisations petitioned the Tunisian government to take action against police who are known to “threaten or blackmail judges into halting judicial proceedings opened against them.”