An excerpt from, "Study finds bias in Internet postings about Syria’s civil war" by Lauren Kirkwood, McClatchy, February 24:
YouTube videos and posts on Facebook and Twitter have made scenes from Syria’s civil war accessible to audiences thousands of miles from the conflict. But the version of events disseminated by social media is not a completely accurate picture of the war, according to a report from the congressionally funded U.S. Institute of Peace.
After reviewing more than 38 million Twitter posts about the Syrian conflict, a team of Middle East scholars from The George Washington University and American University concluded that rather than an objective account of what’s taken place, social media posts have been carefully curated to represent a specific view of the war. It said the skewing of the social media view of the conflict has been amplified by the way more traditional news outlets make use of the postings – for example, passing along social media posts written in English over those written in Arabic.
Because journalists were largely unable to get direct access to the events in Syria at the start of the conflict, many relied on “citizen journalism,” or accounts from Syrians who said they’d witnessed events firsthand, often posted on social media, said Marc Lynch, director of George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies and a co-author of the report.
But the posts were problematic, in part because they were difficult to verify, but also because Syrian activists became adept at crafting a specific message through Twitter, YouTube and other Internet-based services, the report said. Audiences removed from the conflict often took the posts at face value, the report said.
Lynch said the study found that discussion of the Syrian conflict in Western media generally originated with a small group of English-speaking journalists and analysts who are more or less isolated from the action. Speakers of English and Arabic can bridge the journalists’ gap in knowledge, but they often have an agenda.
“People bridge because they want to accomplish something,” he said. “If you were a Syrian activist trying to build support for international intervention in Syria or the funding of the Free Syrian Army, of course, you are going to highlight the peaceful pro-American nature of the Free Syrian Army and downplay sectarian acts.”