This is important https://t.co/Yx2kLcPv6d— sianushka (@sianushka) April 19, 2018
On April 7, human rights organizations and rescue workers reported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dropped chemical bombs on the Easter Ghouta city of Douma, killing at least 40 people. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is attempting to send its investigators to the devastated town — however, Syria, Russia and its allies claim the entire incident was staged. Meanwhile, the United States, France and United Kingdom believe they have proof that chlorine and nerve agents were used by the regime against innocent Syrians.
However, their claims are nothing compared to conspiracy theorists, calling themselves social media activists, on Twitter.
These so-called and entirely dubious “independent journalists” have grabbed on to the Russian-floated theories concerning “false flag” operations carried out by Syrian rebels and rescue workers in order to frame the Assad regime. These social media users have amassed like-minded followers in the hundreds of thousands, who believe many political and news media organizations have secretly allied with Western countries, Saudi Arabia and even terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda and ISIS.
One of these social media users goes by the name of Vanessa Beeley, who writes for a far-right “conjecture site” and has made appearances on Russia-owned TV channel RT. Currently, she has more than 30,000 Twitter followers.
Then there is Sarah Abdallah, who identified herself as an “independent Lebanese geopolitical commenter.” She has more than 127,000 followers, including 250 real journalists. In fact, the number of people who follow her is equivalent to those who follow some of the BBC’s renowned reporters.
But what’s most surprising is the fact that she has written no articles in English or Arabic and just has an empty blog. Still, according to research firm Graphika, her blog is one of the most influential one as regards to dialogues about Syria. It also pushes propaganda about the White Helmets, the Syrian rescue workers and the chemical attacks in the country. The firm also discovered Abdallah’s account was mainly followed by people from the far-right, white nationalists, pro-Assad supporters, Trump supporters and Russian allies.
The emergence of so many self-professed experts on Syria is probably because of lack of authentic reporters on Syria’s ground zero. The information void has now been filled by highly biased reporting, none of which is journalism, according to professor Scott Lucas of the University of Birmingham.
"The danger we face is, unreliable information is now being taken up by more established — and what we would think of as — more reliable outlets," he told BBC.
However, there is a silver lining. The influence of these so-called social media activists is slumping, according to the BBC. The hashtag #SyriaHoax was used just 17,000 times in a week. That’s significantly low, considering after the chemical attack in 2017, the hashtag was used 280,000 times.
Banner/Thumbnail: White Helmets/Handout via REUTERS