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YouTube, Facebook, Twitter: Tools of Syrian Opposition

Henry Ridgwell

Of all the uprisings across the Arab world, Syria is proving the hardest for the global media to cover. Opposition groups are therefore heavily reliant on social media - the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter - to convey what is happening. Our reporter recently traveled to neighboring Lebanon for VOA, and found a sophisticated network of Syrian activists taking the opposition fight online.

A shaky amateur video seemingly taken on a cell phone appears to show shells falling on the city of Homs.

It is one of hundreds, possibly thousands of similar videos uploaded to social media websites like YouTube in the past few weeks.

In the absence of many foreign journalists, social media has become one of the key tools for telling the outside world what is happening is Syria.

Just over the border in Lebanon, Abdi Hakim Ijburi sits talking to other Syrian refugees at a camp in the town of Wadi Khaled. He says he had a good life in Syria, selling fabrics.  When the Arab Spring erupted he got online and found many others wanting to emulate the protests in Egypt and Tunisia.

"At first, we started using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to get a group of young people and activists together,” he said. “And from that group we started organizing. In Talkalakh where I come from, we started writing anti-government graffiti on walls.”

Hakim says as the protests built momentum, he was captured and tortured. Like thousands of other Syrians, he escaped into Lebanon from where he continues to help organize the online opposition.

“There were lots of people in my hometown of Talkalakh that I didn’t even know were part of the opposition movement, or were sympathetic with the movement,” he said. “And if it hadn’t been for the social media we wouldn’t have become united.”

Activists are circulating advice online on how to film videos of corpses and torture victims for use in any future trials.

One message sent to VOA via Skype suggests filming both entry and exit wounds from gunshots so the type of weapon can be determined; and including a copy of the day's newspaper to prove the timing.

Emanuelle Esposti, a columnist and blogger in Britain, has been analyzing the use of such videos by foreign mainstream media.

“It’s very difficult to know where that video has actually come from, who’s behind it, why are they behind it," said Esposti. "Because there’s nobody there on the ground, because there’s no reporter there that can say ‘Yes, I’ve looked out of my window and I’ve seen this.’”

One of the most prolific activists in Syria was Rami al-Sayed. He used the website ‘Bambuser’ to broadcast purported live pictures of the shelling of Homs to the outside world.

Fellow activists say he was killed by shrapnel.

Media analysts say the recent deaths of two foreign journalists in Homs have left the outside world even more dependent on Syria’s citizens to document the violence.   

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