The Documentalist

Video Witnessing in Syria

Posted in News by Sarah on June 25, 2011

Liam Stack’s June 18, 2011  New York Times article, “Activists Using Video to Bear Witness in Syria” describes Syrian activists’ efforts to draw attention to a three-month-old popular uprising that is getting little accurate press coverage.  As described in the article, Syrian media is not covering events accurately, while foreign media representatives are barred from entering the country to report on events.  The solution that the activists have hit upon is to upload video footage to YouTube and Facebook whenever possible–a difficult feat given the rolling internet blackouts that the country is experiencing as the government tries to quash electronic communication about the rebellion against the Assad family, which has ruled Syria for 40 years.

Like the other events of the Arab Spring, digital communication is proving to be an important tool for Syrians trying to gain freedom from widespread illegal acts carried out by their government.  Social media serves a fundamental role in circumventing the government’s heavy-handed attempts at silencing protest, as well as accurate coverage of events there.  As stated in Stack’s article:

The operation here, which started in March, has grown in importance in the last two weeks, since Syrian forces moved into the [Turkish border] region with tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships. By this weekend [June 18, 2011], the activists had loaded more than 250 videos onto their YouTube channel, Freedom4566, which have been viewed more than 220,000 times.

Hiding behind shuttered windows, down dark alleys or on hilltops high above besieged towns, the activists shoot video of the security forces as they push the violent crackdown across Syria’s rural northwest. The men (none of the activists in the media center are women) upload their videos to social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, which Mr. Saeb praises as “the most realistic.”

The material the present reflects that:

Their cameras captured armored trucks whizzing through the streets and fires burning the valley’s slender evergreens, which they said were set ablaze by the army. By afternoon the smoke could also be seen from the tent city below the media center.

The hope of the “cyberactivists” (as they are referred to in the article) is that posting the videos of events they have witnessed to popular social media sites will draw the world’s attention to what is happening in Syria.