5 Ways Social Media Spread Word of Syrian Chemical Attack

By Jennifer Moire 

Photo Courtesy Associated Press

As the Obama Administration weighs how and when to take action against a Syrian regime that reportedly used chemical weapons against its own people, YouTube, Twitter and even Reddit have played a key role in both breaking the news and keeping the world informed.

Just as Twitter and other sites spread word in real time about the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt, social media quickly opened a window into an otherwise isolated Syrian country shortly after the bombs went off last Wednesday.

Viral Campaigns
When word of the massacre broke, people in the region took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to change their profile pictures, and showed their solidarity with the victims by posting variations of the bright yellow images carrying the warning symbol for nuclear energy. Twibbon created a campaign that helped the message go viral online.

Twitter Hashtags
When news of the attack first broke, the Arab world started using the Twitter hashtags #CWMassacre and #AnewMassacreinSyria to spread the word. Today, most following the breaking news are using the simply #Syria tag.

National Public Radio social media guru Andy Carvin (@acarvin) started re-tweeting the comments from his deep well of followers in the region, shortly after the video started appearing.  Carvin tweets both sides and the comments from the region and inside Syria offer great perspective and insight.  Carvin is a valuable Twitter resource when there is breaking news in the Middle East, as we learned during the uprising in Egypt a few years ago.

Real-Time Video Uploads
Several reporters I follow pointed to a stream of videos that were posted online shortly after the attacks in the Damascas suburb of East Ghouta. Reddit has a group called, “Syrian Civil War,” where videos of the massacre started appearing around 4 a.m. local time.

This YouTube channel and another one here, started posting a stream of disturbing video images shortly after the bombs went off.

Verifying the videos and other images can be difficult.  Traditional news sites, such as the Associated Press, can play a critical role, as they did in verifying the feature photo for this article.

Trust But Verify
But social media can also aid in verifying videos and photos out of Syria.

That’s where services such as Storyful and NewsPoint come in to pay. Both are journalism-based platforms that comb through social media posts and have been tracking the conflict in Syria since the start, according to Global News.

According to journalist Félim McMahon of Storyful, “Every town, every village has… a handful of media activists who are reporting on a daily basis and filming on a daily basis.”

Storyful’s team look at the uploader’s history how long have they been online, how many videos have they uploaded, are they the original source of the video, according to the Canadian site, Global News.

They also “geo-locate” the scene, using tool such as satellite imagery, Google Earth and Google Maps and use landmarks to locate where violence or armed attacks have occurred.

What should social media users look for next in the Syrian conflict? According to the White House, President Obama has already started consulting with Congressional leaders who will start to weigh in on options. Although Congress is technically on summer break, look for your local elected officials to comment using social media on this fast-breaking story.

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) has already started to react regarding Syria.