I am trying to get this blog kicking off. I don’t know if the things I said below make sense, but this is at least my impression on the mentioned topics.
Twitter is rarely known inside Syria. It’s known here that most of the Syrian tweeps are tweeting from diaspora and not from Syria. I have noticed that most people, unfortunately, seek to see the Egyptian model applied on the rest of regional revolutions. But each country has its own interesting peculiarity.
In fact, and if you were following the revolution update right from the start, there has been a huge problem with getting real information out. That’s partly because Syrians online are not the same Syrians protesting offline. But that’s not always the case. For example, @AnonymousSyria and @EdwardeDark are both based in Aleppo. When there are unconfirmed reports published on twitter or Facebook on Aleppo, they’re the ones to usually confirm instantly whether the report is true or false. The case is the same in Homs with @Kinaniyat (even though he’s not in Homs) and with several tweeps based in Damascus. But with other areas like Daraa, Douma, Darayya, Idleb, Latakya, Hama and others, where electricity and communications are regularly cut, it’s hard to get the confirmation quickly and on twitter. One ought to call people by phone to confirm the rumors.
Several activists tried to solve this problem and created Local Coordination Committee. It was the most credible group on Facebook that gets the truth out, but recently its quality is not the same as before. There have been a few false reports and I think the problem is with the lack of volunteers and not dividing the work equally among all members. It’s nonetheless the best source of updates on Syria.
Syrians and the Police State
Why social media is not that popular in Syria? You have to remember that Tunisia and Syria have very similar nature of police state and authoritarian regimes. Both regimes enhanced internet censorship and both track anyone who speaks one word out of the box. Bloggers, journalists, Facebookers and internet users have always been imprisoned by the Syrian regime. In Syria, Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia Arabic, Amazon and of course, all “Islamic” and opposition sites are blocked in Syria. (Facebook and Youtube were unblocked recently in Syria, Syrians inside argue that the regime’s decision to unblock these two social websites was to track Syrian activists and users online. Furthermore, most detainees detained now in Syria are asked to open their personal emails and Facebook pages during their “investigation”).
Most laptops or computers in Syria have proxies on their desktops. Even though Facebook was blocked, some Syrians create accounts and used proxies to access their pages. In the past four months, Facebook has become a tool not only to publish news, but to organize, and more importantly to get a sense of what your friends and acquaintances think about the current events in Syria.
I personally value people’s statuses more than the links they post on Syria. The personal status speaks much of their feelings, their anger, fears and hopes, which are explicitly shown in the few lines they publish on their walls. Personal statuses on Facebook can reflect people’s consciousness that’s changing in every phase. People still self-censor their views when they write their statuses, but you can understand their positions nonetheless, and the changes they went through in the past four months.
I believe Facebook is what most Syrians inside use, but it’s wrong to assume that all the people taking the streets are Facebookers. There is actually a common criticism addressed to the Syrian Facebookers (who many of them just joined Facebook after it was unblocked): “all of your statements and pages are addressed to your own elitist audience who have internet at home. Most of the people demonstrating, being detained and killed don’t even have internet at home.”
The Margin of the Margin
Sadly, we cannot know for sure if this is true or not. But something needs to be pointed out here: most of the pages created for the detainees on Facebook are created for people who have Facebook accounts. But there are over 6196 detainees in Syria. Some of them were tortured to death. There are over 1781 martyrs and none of them was reported by her/his friends or family members on Facebook, but by their friends, family members and eye witnesses on the streets and via phone. We know of martyrs’ names by activists who are in direct contact with the residents of a certain area. We know of martyrs because of a video published on youtube taken by one of the protesters who was there at the same time and place of the shooting. We don’t have access to information and photos of thousands of detainees and martyrs because of Facebook, FB is not here the source of information, but another tool, like twitter, that “shares” the already published report.
The case is not the same with people detained and who have Facebook accounts. The more one is known on Facebook, the more his campaign page on Facebook receives “likes.” Mai Skaf, Syrian actress who was detained in what is called “intellectuals protest in Midan” and was released few days later. Her campaign page on Facebook received thousands of “likes” in four days only.
Since Facebook is only accessed by few Syrians, many believe that mainstream Arabic media like AJ, for example, play major role at introducing an alternative political discourse and vision to the Syrian revolution. Where is this revolution going? What do we want? When we say we want democracy and freedom, what does that exactly mean, politically?
Televised Media & Political Discourse
When prominent Syrian writers and political activists like Burhan Ghalioun, Yassin Haj Saleh, Louay Hussein, Samar Yazbek and others appear on AJ on short interviews or commenting on the current events in Syria, their words somewhat become political guidance to many protesters and to those whom are called “the silence majority.”
Some are now saying that “we need more of those, many more, so that everyone in Syria can have a clearer vision of what a dignified future really means.”
The names I mentioned above became very famous on the Syrian Facebook. Each of them now has thousands of “Friends” and their statuses and “notes” are “shared” widely among Syrian users. Facebook has created a link between the intellectual and the “common” Syrian citizen. But this common Syrian has some privileges that other “common” citizens don’t have. Whether we like it or not, the internet is a classist privilege. Mainstream Arab media isn’t. Hence many rely on these to publish news on the one hand, and to formulate a political vision gradually, at least on the consciousness level, on the other.
If most protesters don’t have Facebook, if the martyrs and thousands detainees don’t have access to the tools “activists” use to be named as such, who are then the activists? (and I am not talking here about political activists eg. party member, opposition figure, etc..) and what is their role in the Syrian revolution? Let’s talk about it in some other post.