In the age of digital sharing (or over-sharing, as is often the case), it has become increasingly easy for one to “filter” oneself through the many lenses of social media. While there is no doubting the importance of having and maintaining an online presence (some employers even require their employees to maintain a Facebook account), there is certainly room to doubt the accuracy with which people portray themselves through these outlets. Anyone who has ever scrolled through an Instagram feed, for example, has probably witnessed this phenomena first hand. Do the people you choose to follow only dine on gourmet farm-to-table cuisine? Do their cats and dogs spend their entire lives in the most adorable of positions? Probably not, but this is what people choose to share. Of course, there is a perfectly good reason for this sort of “social highlighting”: social media gives its users the unique opportunity to essentially report on themselves, and who could resist the chance to give themselves a glowing review?
Enter President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian dictator, whose country is in the midst of a brutal civil war, can now also be known (on Instagram, at least) as @syrianpresidency. According to the latest estimates form the United Nations, the fighting in Syria has already claimed 100,000 lives, but not a trace of heartbreak or tragedy can be found on Assad’s Instagram feed. Scrolling through his photos of supporters and candid shots with his wife, Asma, one can almost believe Assad to be the ruler of Oz, rather than a divided and impoverished nation. There are no pictures of bloodied bodies or chemical weapons (the U.N. claims to have received thirteen reports of the use of such weapons). In the absence of these grotesque scenes (Assad seems to feel the citizen journalists are doing an adequate job covering such trifles), a picture of Syria’s first couple posing with the graduating class of The National Center for the Distinguished is proudly displayed.
Assad (or his appointed moderator) does seem to have discovered one major snag with this form of online contemporary revisionist history: the viewing public. Despite apparent efforts to have negative comments removed from the posts, angry Instagram users seem to be posting them more quickly than the government can remove them. On one photo showing the president shaking hands with supporters, user @memifa01 left a comment reading “will you show photos of the cities and people you destroyed?” Conversely, comments of praise and support are seemingly everywhere, exemplified by user @laithghaiba, who commented on the very same photo with a simple “God bless you.”
In effect, Assad’s Instagram feed has become the latest battlefield in a terrible conflict that has already touched far too many lives. As hard as the regime is obviously trying to cloak itself and its leader in bliss and innocence, the blood of war continues to bleed through. If nothing else, something can be learned from Assad’s attempted spin. As time marches on, and the way we share and consume information continues to evolve, people will continue to write the history books in there own favor. Now though, perhaps more than ever, the people have a way to fight back.
Written By: David HIll