Last week, the Syrian American Council (@sa_council | FB Page) hosted a Google Hangout with Syrian activists—inside and outside the country—who have been using the Internet for the revolution. A full description of the event is listed on the Social Media Week website, which provided the occasion for the event.
During the hangout, most questions were directed to Osama, an activist and engineer from Idlib. Speaking in Arabic, he offered a detailed look at how social media was adopted in his region and the danger, excitement, and responsibility that it carried with it. He also mentioned different ways in which tools were used, to coordinate before protests, to communicate between civilian networks, and to appeal to international populations to influence their political leaders to do something to stop the violence.
He recalled how at the beginning of the revolution, protestors often didn’t know what Facebook or Skype were and how people were learning from one another how to use the tools. “We were under a lot of pressure to do workshops and give people detailed instructions on how to use these services because there was a lot of ignorance about how to use these services. People never really had the need before,” he said. “But when people saw their protest on television . . . and made that connection, they realized how important YouTube is.”
Kenan Rahmani, a Syrian-American activist, translated for Osama, and spoke about the importance of activists’ reporting during the revolution for getting the truth out of the country, especially when traditional journalists couldn’t get in and traditional media got it wrong. Activists like him and Osama, he said, could offer more context—not only “because we were talking to activists 24 hours a day,” he explained, but also because “if the information wasn’t verified by several independent sources of activists, we wouldn’t share it. We had guidelines as to what was verified and what was legitimate news and what wasn’t.”
Whether acting as journalists or activists, questions came up several times during the conversation about the effect their actions had had on the international response to the crisis. Very little, in Osama’s opinion. “After two years of protest,” he said, “we did all this. We wanted just a little freedom, not even everything. And the international community didn’t do anything.”
Still, even as the fall of Assad remains only an expectation rather than a fait accompli, Osama and others are looking forward to civilian rule. In fact, he’s already started a local civilian council. Asked whether there’s a role for social media in this new world, he said, Yes, that with the lack of reliable media, it’s the “only vehicle for their message.”
In fact, already all the work of the civilian councils is being shared on social networks to establish their legitimacy and credibility and to prove that the civilian structures actually dominate the military ones. “The Free Syrian Army is actually subject to and serves the structures of our town,” he said.