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LEBANON: Saving face on Facebook

January 30, 2008 | 10:00 am

FacebookThe Facebook craze in Lebanon is widespread. People here use the social networking website to share vacation photos and frivolous thoughts with their friends.

But sometimes what starts as a puerile joke on Facebook can turn into a real nightmare. Four Lebanese college students could actually face jail time for writing nasty remarks about their female classmate on Facebook.

Newspaper reports said that the four male students were detained for a week in January in their hometown of Zahle, a Christian enclave in the Bekaa Valley.

They were arrested after their classmate accused them of "defamation" over the Internet, which could be a serious offense in a society torn between its traditional roots and modern longings.

Lebanon_flagAs proof, she presented a meticulously compiled document containing all the Facebook posts concerning her, which she printed out before the four accused erased them. These remarks were not released in the media.

Despite pressure from the students' friends and family against it, the girl in question has insisted on pressing charges against her classmates, maintaining that their crude comments had tarnished her reputation.

Advocacy groups saw this unprecedented case as a breach of freedom of expression, especially with the absence of laws pertaining to the Internet. The final hearing for the case is on Feb. 28. Whatever the verdict, one lesson seems clear in Lebanon: Don't mess with someone's reputation on Facebook.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

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