Millions of Syrians are using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype to disseminate and discuss the conflict. Each week our Mohammed Sergie monitors the online conversation in English and Arabic, pulling out the highlights in a feature called the Social Media Buzz.
It finally happened. More than 20 months after the first protests broke out in Syria, the Assad regime cut the Internet and phone lines last week as rebels advanced on the international airport in Damascus.
The country that was already suffering from major communication constraints due to power outages, selective disruption of Internet and phone services, and sluggish connection speeds in the best of times. But activists and fighters who’ve learned how to work around the government networks were prepared and continued to report their version of the news.
What was lost last week were the voices of friends and family who use smart phones or DSL lines to connect with loved ones abroad. Syrian expatriates tried to fill the gap with a solidarity campaign that went viral on Facebook and Twitter, and even united regime supporters, opponents and those in the middle.
This sentiment spread across the web during Syria’s Internet blackout. Most posts were sincere and followed the script, yet some broke away with messages of defiance and humor.
Of course when the Internet was restored (the Assad regime never fully explained why it was disrupted), people in Syria were inundated with these notes in their feeds, and many criticized the expats for conflating sentiment with reality. They complained that life in New York or Paris can’t compare to the fear and pain of living in Homs.
Now that the Internet is back, we are hearing more about the humanitarian conditions – they’re usually masked by activists more concerned with battles and massacres. The lack of bread is a constant theme emerging from Aleppo.
But the biggest hit on social media this past week was short YouTube video that appears to be the first successful downing of a helicopter with an anti-aircraft missile in Syria. The video, which was shot in a village less than 20 miles away from Aleppo, is approaching a half million views.
This column hasn’t yet delved into the many excellent blogs written by Syrians, but they have become important tools that showcase profound voices on this conflict. Razan Ghazzawi, an activist and writer, wrote about her friend Bassel Shehade, the filmmaker who died earlier this year in Homs. (He is mentioned in Amal Hanano’s profile on media activists in Homs).
Ghazzawi’s article captures a sadness that many Syrians have chosen not to deal with during the revolution, but one that will undoubtedly affect millions of Syrians when the conflict ends.
“Bassel, I don’t get how you’re still dead. You’re one of my best friends, and it’s not getting easier, and time is not healing shit, and thinking about you still makes me cry. Do you understand? We’ve lost so much of our humanity, we’ve became numb to news, but you can still make me cry. How can you be dead to me, Bassel, when you’re the one who’s making me human again?”