In ‘Why the Syrian Uprising is the First Social Media War,’ Patrick Howell-O’Neill describes the role of social media in the Syrian War. This uprising can be classified as the first social media war because, as Howell-O’Neill explains, social media has played a pivotal role since 2005, used as a means of dispersing information and organizing dissent. Howell-O’Neill focuses mainly on the impact of video (YouTube and LiveLeak) and picture (Instagram) platforms in mobilizing support.
What is perhaps most interesting in the article is the acknowledgment of social media activity on both sides of the conflict. On the rebel side, citizens are filming and documenting the injustices done to them by Assad’s forces, then broadcasting this information to a larger and more influential global audience through YouTube, or other less-filtered social media sites. The article tells of a man who, severely injured by an errant airstrike, was asked to be filmed. “I’m sure they regarded me as a potential propaganda machine,” he later said. “People would often approach the camera and make speeches or cite ‘facts’ that were not verifiable.” This footage will be placed in a video campaign for mass distribution. In this way, it appears to me that rebel actors will sometimes use ‘shock’ media to draw individuals to their cause. This type of media is not concerned with the injured or killed individual but, rather, the alarming message that his or her wounds send, which is fundamentally an appeal to the humanity in anyone watching from abroad.
See a successful rebel video campaign, documenting a rebel victory at a government checkpoint here.
Meanwhile, al-Assad has his own personal uses for social media. I have noticed that the first, and most notable, influence which al-Assad exerts over the sphere of social media is that of containment. The Syrian Electronic Army, charged with monitoring information in Syria, continues to deactivate rebel websites and publications, in order to control what the outside world sees. Furthermore, al-Assad uses Instagram to distribute his own message, including convenient euphemisms for what is happening on the ground and also pictures of rebel chemical weaponry usage online.
I think that the usage of social media in modern warfare is fascinating. This technology can greatly increase the global audience for either cause, whichever most effectively uses social media for its aims. What is perhaps most challenging, however, is sifting through all of the social media information and determining the accuracy of this information. With strong, sensationalist rhetoric coming from both sides of the conflict, who can one believe?
Read the article here.