Syria propaganda social media war frenzy

2012-08-12 21:39

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Paris - The battle for Syria is raging on the ground but also on social media, where people on both sides of the conflict are hacking, posting and spamming in a frenzied propaganda war.

The Twitter feeds of news organisations have been hacked by pro-regime elements, videos purporting to show atrocities in Syria are regularly posted to YouTube and pro- or anti-government messages often flood Facebook pages.

"People are using all these social media platforms to influence audiences outside their country to support them; they're getting quite aggressive with it," said David Bailey, an expert on social media and the military.

"The so-called Arab Spring was very softly-softly. Nobody was being too harsh on the web against the regime... Now it's 'look at this, look at that, and I'll drag up as much nastiness as possible in the hope that you're going to support me.'"

Social media are widely credited for having helped mobilise and co-ordinate protesters during the Arab Spring, which kicked off in Tunisia at the end of 2010 and spread to Egypt, Libya and other countries.

In Syria, they are being used as a platform to galvanise public opinion as the nearly 17-month-long uprising against President Bashar Assad's rule rages on.

"It's not at all surprising that all the different elements in this conflict are making use of social media," said John Bassett, a cyber security expert at the Royal United Services Institute and a former British intelligence officer.

"It's the great arena where information struggles of whatever kind happen these days."

Pro-regime supporters, for instance, have spammed Facebook accounts deemed anti-Assad with thousands of vitriolic messages.

Tortured activists

They are also posting pro-regime comments and "liking" them thousands of times - a move that brings visibility to the statements.

In addition, the Syrian government is using social media to track activists, says Okhin, a Paris-based hacker who has worked remotely with people in the country to educate them on cyber-security.

"By infiltrating social networks using traditional techniques - pretending to be another person, putting people at ease - they gain access to [the activist's] list of friends, and can see who they're speaking to," he said.

The hacker, who refuses to reveal his real name, adds that the government has reportedly tortured some activists to gain access to their social media accounts.

The regime also use techniques such as phishing, he said.

"They put in place a fake Facebook page, and people log on via the Syrian internet with their user names and passwords, which the government then recover and use."

The Twitter accounts of news organisations have also been hacked. Last weekend, for instance, people gained access to one of Reuters' feeds and posted tweets - some of which carried false reports about rebel casualties.

But Bassett said these methods were still relatively crude.

"They're able to use many of these fora only because the people they are hijacking have poor IT security... And there's not a great deal of understanding in human psychology and human behaviour in what's being done."

No control

Opposition activists, meanwhile, are also making use of social networks to raise awareness of the situation, mainly by posting grisly videos purporting to show people killed or maimed by regime forces, including kids.

But the videos are hard to authenticate, and this method has sometimes backfired, with other footage posted online allegedly showing rebels themselves committing atrocities.

"Neither side has ultimate control on the message going out," said Bailey.

In some instances, social media have allowed outsiders to get wind of significant developments on the ground.

One man claiming to be a rebel, for instance, on Tuesday posted a photo on Facebook of himself posing with a weapon identified by one intelligence expert as a portable surface-to-air missile launcher with infrared guidance.

If the account and photo are genuine, it would be one of the first indications that Syrian rebels have acquired anti-aircraft missiles.

Crowd-sourced map

But aside from those fighting each other in and out of Syria, other activists are also using social media to collate information about casualties and victims of sexual violence in the uprising.

A group of US-based activists has created Syria Tracker, a crowd-sourced effort where people on the ground can report crimes via direct web entry, e-mail or by tweeting with the hashtag #basharcrimes.

By also tracking news stories, blogs, Facebook posts, and cross-checking the information with trusted sources and other reporting outlets, the activists have created a map charting deaths across Syria.

Women Under Siege Syria is another similar, crowd-sourced map that charts rapes during the conflict.

Ultimately, though, experts say there is little evidence the war of words on social media is having a measurable impact on the ground.

"It's not at all clear whether information operations on any side - and certainly on the regime side - are being that productive," said Bassett.

- SAPA

Read more on:    twitter  |  facebook  |  syria  |  internet security  |  social media  |  syria conflict
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
10 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

Shilowa supports Vote No campaign

Former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa has come out in support of the Vote No! Campaign launched recently by former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and former deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, says a report.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Nokia Lumia 800

The stunningly social Nokia Lumia 800 features head-turning design, ...

From R2395.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just to...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.