Listen: Social media as a weapon in the Syrian civil war

Mohamed El-Doufani* writes:

Amira Galal, a specialist in online harmful speech, discusses the role of social media in the Syrian civil war, from fake news and images disseminated by both the opposition groups and the government, to recruitment for the pro- and anti-government militias, to the promotion of sectarianism — the latter often hidden in the comments sections of social media postings.

No one knows precisely how the start of the 2011 Syrian insurrection against the ruling Asad regime had been organised. 

What we do know is the fact that in March of that year Syrian security forces shot dead protestors in the southern town of Deraa who were demanding the release of political prisoners, and that this triggered the violent unrest that steadily spread nationwide over the following months and years.

What we also know is that since independence there have been just three primary drivers for political change in Syria: the armed forces, the Baath party and the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Throughout the 20th Century, different Syrian regimes have brutally suppressed civil society movements and pluralistic political expression. As such  there has never been genuine, non-state-sponsored mass mobilisation and, consequently, there have never been independent mass movements driving political change.

So it should hardly come as a surprise that, however it began, the 2011 uprising was quickly hijacked by external forces, each using the different Syrian factions as tools to pursue their own regional agenda. 

The funnelling of vast sums of money and armaments by external actors pursuing more Islamist goals tipped the balance against the Asad regime but this came at a cost, unleashing radical Islamist movements in the shape of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State group who rapidly came to dominate the opposition and pushed the state to the point of imminent collapse, triggering Russian, Iranian and Lebanese Hizballah military interventions. 

The prize has been saving the Syrian state, but the cost, especially that of the tactics used by the Russian air force, has been comprehensive destruction of virtually everything that stands. 

In this episode, our guest Amira Galal, a specialist in online harmful speech, looks at one little-discussed aspect of the Syrian conflict, that of social media.

*Dr Mohamed El-Doufani is an editor, writer, analyst and commentator specialising in the Middle East and North Africa, and Russian and US foreign policies.


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