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Jan. 14, 2017

Showing a war through a screen

by Amy Forsbacka, Editor-in-Chief
Bana Alabed, seven, is a little Syrian girl bringing the daily struggles of living in a war zone and what is happening inside of Aleppo to the forefront of national media. Her medium for doing this? Twitter. During Syria's civil war, social media is helping the international community care more about the Aleppo conflict by directly seeing how it affects those living in Aleppo. Some people living in Aleppo are sharing what they're dealing with over social media and it's telling the world, "Hey, the crisis in Aleppo matters, and it needs attention." By personalizing this crisis, the international community can be prompted to take action and help those in need.

Syrians trapped in Aleppo are saying goodbye in what may be their last moments alive on Twitter and WhatsApp. Abdulla Saleem, 39, a doctor living in the bombed out remains of a building, said on WhatsApp, "They are killing everyone. ... My friends are doctors, who were providing the only possible medical care to the injured. Now they are butchered. Everyone is dying. I will soon die, too." The outside world can get a view into how the crisis is affecting the everyday lives of individuals living in Aleppo and the desperation of the people living in the city.
A Syrian boy walks through the rubble of Aleppo. Courtesy of CNN
A Syrian boy walks through the rubble of Aleppo.

Bana Alabed and her mother tweet about what is happening to them to Aleppo and what they do to cope with the war through their Twitter account, which currently has 367,000 followers. Their struggles have not gone unnoticed, as Alabed and her family were recently evacuated from Aleppo to Turkey. The urgency of her tweets has captured the heart of many while bringing to light the dire humanitarian situation in Aleppo. Alabed has been called the girl "who announced the Aleppo massacre to the world on social media" and has been likened to Anne Frank. Using social media as a spotlight on the cruelty of the war is one of the ways it's being used by those trapped in Aleppo to expose the crisis to the international stage.

Another person using social media to give the outside world glimpses into what living in the war torn city is like is Wissam Zarqa, an English teacher and anti-government activist in Aleppo. Zarqa posts pictures and videos to a WhatsApp group about bits of news, attacks and views into his daily life.
Aleppo is left in ruins after being a war site for almost five years. 
Courtesy of Suffragio
Aleppo is left in ruins after being a war site for almost five years.

The people in Aleppo voicing their struggles online are not in isolation. The Syrian civil war is one that has been dominated by social media. How information is perceived and how the war is being portrayed has been shaped by social media. Opposition groups in the war and even President Bashar al-Assad have used YouTube and Twitter to convey their political message through social media exposure and use it as a platform.

The victims of the war are cut off from the world yet connected to a national audience at the same time. Some Syrians, like others in Zarqa's WhatsApp group cannot leave their areas for fear of being killed or arrested by the Syrian government, but they can connect to the outside world through social media. When people are able to see on a personal level what living through this war is like, hopefully it helps the international community feel a greater sense of urgency about helping to evacuate and help people like Alabed and Zarqa. The crisis in Aleppo has ravaged the lives of thousands and destroyed a historic city. Through online glimpses of what living in a war zone is really like, it's time the world wakes up to what the people in Aleppo face every day.




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