How Syrians on both sides are using social media as part of their fight
Particularly striking is how Instagram is being used the the opposition to document the fighting.
In the previous Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Libya we saw much less of that and more of Twitter and Facebook — particularly in the former.
Buzzfeed has pulled together more than 30 Instagram images that give a snap shot of the rebels as they struggle against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Some of them are horrifying as you would expect chronicling as they do the bloodiest struggle in the region since Iraq. Many focus on children both as casualties, observers and fighters.
The use of Instagram reflects what I posted a little while ago that Syria is a war being reported by social media and citizen-journalists - as Western journalists struggle to gain access or face being taken prisoner, as was Sunday Times photographer John Cantlie, or lose their lives as Sunday Times war reporter Marie Colvin did.
“The government killed his entire family n wonder why little kids are fighting against them smh. Wa kilmit 7oriye yumma itgabl hal roosiya (and the word freedom evades Russia).. Wa ijeetich yumma shaheed, la tibchee 3alayaaaaa #syria #freesyria #freedomfighter #fsa #freesyrianarmy #sham #damascus #homs #aleppo #hama #fku”
“The children in syria..”
“Champions, may God protect you and guide you #Syria #Aleppo #Revolution #Rebel Army”
You can see the rest of the images on Buzzfeed. While they are likely to be widely seen others have questioned what good such pictures and social more generally do the Free Syrian Army?
Earlier this year the Telegraph asked if Syria’s uprising needed more technologically savvy multimedia activists or “more people inside the country blowing things up”. It is a fair question. Unlike Egypt where a mass of people, organised through social media, was enough to bring down Hosni El Sayed Mubarak Syria is very different.
In the end, the piece asked what poses the greater threat to a repressive regime? Is it social media relaying images around the world or a better armed and organised insurgency?
“The 13 months of Syria’s revolt have starkly illustrated the limits of social media as an engine of revolution, and of the claims made for the internet’s transformative power. Yes, countless supporters within Syria and across the globe have been galvanised on Facebook and Twitter. Yes, the harrowing video clips on YouTube mean that no one – anywhere – can plead ignorance of Assad’s atrocities. All this has unquestionably helped to keep Syria at the forefront of the diplomatic agenda, despite the mainstream media being largely excluded from the country,” David Blair at the Telegraph wrote.
What is certainly true is that the Assad regime sees the online world as a threat and has been flexing its muscles in an effort to shape the story.
Reuters reported that one of its Twitter accounts was hacked on Sunday and false tweets were posted.
A spokesman for Reuters, said:”Earlier today @ReutersTech was hacked and changed to @ReutersME. The account has been suspended and is currently under investigation.”
The incident followed news that the blogging platform of the Reuters News website was compromised on Friday and a false posting purporting to carry an interview with a Syrian rebel leader was illegally posted on a Reuters’ journalist’s blog.
The hacked Twitter account sent a series of 22 false tweets carrying false reports about Syrian rebel losses suffered in battles with Syrian government forces as they battle in Aleppo.
The attack on Reuters echoes what others are reporting about how the regime is using social media to attack western media.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle recently reported this on how Assad’s electronic attacks were targeting social networks and international media:
“Here are e-mail addresses and passwords of Al Jazeera employees” reads a message on the website of the “Syrian Electronic Army.” The message goes on to say that the group has 40 British and 150 US news pages under its control as well as the websites of Syrians abroad “who are supporting the terror against our country.”
The Internet portal is conceived as a propaganda arm of Bashar Assad’s regime, encouraging its users to support the beleaguered dictator through spam attacks. The attacks are targeted at media critical of the Assad regime.
What is also interesting and quite terrifying is how having blocked Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites for years the Assad regime has stopped doing so. Why? It is easier to track people if you can monitor traffic to such sites, according to this piece from the Alaska Dispatch:
To a far greater degree than Libya, Egypt or perhaps any other nation in the Arab world, Syria’s government has succeeded in flipping activists’ use of digital tools and social media to the government’s own advantage, cyber experts with an eye on Syria say.
A “Syrian Revolution” page showed up on Facebook in March 2011, winning 41,000 fans in just a few days, and 138,000 a few weeks later, a recent report found. By last month, it had 438,000 fans. But frequenting such pages may be potentially hazardous, as well as educational or motivational.
“Online social media, which virtually anyone can use from home, played a central role in the Syrian uprising and helped break the decades-old government media monopoly,” Amjad Baiazy, a Syrian researcher living in London writes in a new study published last month by MediaPolicy.org, a London-based new media think tank. “But it helped the Syrian government crack down on activists.”