Lebanon opts for social media blackout as Beirut blast anniversary ‘too difficult to bear'

One year on, many are seeking to avoid memories of the lethal port explosion

Listen to the latest podcast on the Beirut blast here

As Lebanon prepares to mark the first anniversary of the devastating Beirut port explosion, many residents are choosing to avoid being online on August 4.

Mental health advocates are calling for a social media blackout to avoid triggering pictures, videos and stories from that fateful day.

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Being off social media will make it easier for me to deal with this doomsday.
Rabie Ibrahim, 31, business development specialist

“I am taking a detox because I have been replaying and reliving every moment of that day in my head,” said Rima Rassi, 35, a PhD student and researcher. "I feel that doing that a year to the day of the blast will be far too difficult to bear."

Ms Rassi escaped the Beirut port explosion by “sheer luck” when she drove through the port road, a part of her regular commute, an hour before the blast.

It was not until she reached Keserwan, a district north-east of Beirut, that she heard and felt the impact of the blast that killed at least 214 people and injured thousands more.

Ms Rassi is not alone in her decision to disconnect.

“I’m not ready to see videos of the explosion,” said Yara Arkadan, 23, a content writer. “I’m trying to protect my mental health.”

Ms Arkadan was on her way to Beirut when she heard the two blasts that ripped the city apart. Only when she later saw the footage online did she realise the damage.

Like Ms Arkadan, Rabie Ibrahim, 31, a business development specialist, is also looking out for his own emotional welfare by deciding to log off on Wednesday.

“I really want to protect my sanity,” Mr Ibrahim told The National. “Being off social media will make it easier for me to deal with this doomsday.”

Mental health experts are supporting the social media blackout, given the significance of the explosion’s “first anniversary”.

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I encourage people to take a few days off if possible to avoid being triggered.
Dr Joseph Khoury, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the American University of Beirut

Anniversaries tend to be symbolic and can trigger more intrusive memories than any other day, said Dr Joseph Khoury, assistant professor of psychiatry at the American University of Beirut.

“I expect everyone will be talking about it,” he told The National. “I encourage people to take a few days off if possible to avoid being triggered.”

Healthy and helpful coping mechanisms can include an exchange of experiences with the online community, but sharing videos of the explosion “has no real therapeutic value”, he said.

“It is simply for sensational purposes,” Dr Khoury said.

Detox

That is one main reason why Danny Hajjar opted for a social media detox.

“I’m very concerned about people with big following sharing sensational content,” the 30-year-old media relations professional and activist told The National. “I don’t want to be around that.”

Instead, Mr Hajjar will be taking the time to offer offline support to his family, friends and those who were affected by the explosion, as well as to process his own thoughts and feelings.

“People cope differently,” said Hanane Khatib, 27, a research assistant. She will avoid social media platforms on the day.

“I noticed that the continuous exposure to images and stories of the blast and its aftermath contribute significantly to increasing my anxiety and distress,” Ms Khatib told The National. “It's like forcing us survivors to relive those horrifying moments over and over again, I find myself trapped in an ever-renewing present of existential horror.”

Although many will be offline on Wednesday, the gesture is not enough to keep their minds off the disaster that changed the course of so many lives last year.

“The pain will be with me on August 4, with or without a social media detox,” Ms Rassi told The National. “The pain is unbearable and it will never go away.”

Updated: August 4th 2021, 5:49 AM
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