Paris, Syria and social media: Taking a closer look


The world appears to be in shambles. Terror attacks all over the globe have left news outlets and people on social media scrambling to find answers and a direction to point a finger of blame. Some of the ill-informed public has shown an outpouring of support for action to be taken against ISIS, and in turn have drawn national powers closer and closer to what may result in World War III, and social media is inadvertently helping to propagate the war-mongering.

Skewed social media

A lot has been said following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed at least 127 people. Facebook even launched a feature that would allow users to temporarily overlay the French flag atop their profile pictures. The message underneath those who had chosen to use it read, “change your profile picture to support France and the people of Paris” to encourage other users to follow suit.

Facebook is full of captioned images and sound-bites that are shared hundreds if not thousands of times. After the attack on Paris, many in my own newsfeed posted political statements, mostly positive and supported the people of Paris, but others called for an escalation of U.S. action against ISIS.

A gesture that seemed innocuous at first glance, but what about other terrorist attacks that happened? On Oct. 31, a Russian airliner was brought down by a bomb killing more than 200 on board; ISIS claimed responsibility. In a crowded marketplace in Nigeria on Oct. 24, a two different attacks claimed over 45 lives and injuring many more in Yola and Kano. A day before the Paris attacks, ISIS carried out another bombing in Beirut, Lebanon killing 41 and injuring 200.

A skeptical person may ask why only a Western nation garnered so much support while others didn’t.

Beating the drums of war

Attacking ISIS would mean boosting military presence in Syria, a place in which nobody really knows who’s fighting who and conflicts of interest are commonplace.

Among many nations and coalitions, here are just a few of the major powers involved. The U.S. is strongly opposed to the reign of Syria’s current president Bashar Al-Assad. Russia on the other hand supports Assad. Currently ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, are two jihadi groups which oppose Assad but are enemies. Following the events in Paris, France began an air assault in Raqqa, Syria which ISIS claims is the capital of their caliphate..

There are many other national powers that have either provided logistical support, airstrikes, and soldiers. Needless to say it’s confusing and has created untold amounts of violence not only in the area, but globally as we’ve seen from the recent attacks and resettlement of the people the war has displaced.

Yet in the United States and particularly my Facebook newsfeed, cringe-worthy images kept surfacing every time I scrolled. A few images caught my attention, one depicted a bomb with the inscription, “With love from Paris” and another with two cowboys brandishing guns captioned “Saddle up motherfuckers it’s time to play cowboys and Muslims.”

The poster of the last picture posted something along the lines of, “It’s time to step up and show them why we are the land of the free and the home of the brave!” as if cheering at a homecoming football game. There’s a good chance this person doesn’t know the difference between a Sunni Muslim and a Shiite or their infight between them.

In cases like this, nuance is an important character and often missed.

To some on social media, vengeance and retribution seem justified after the attacks. However it must be noted that bombs aren’t as precise as the government leads on and many land in civilian areas. The effects are unintentionally creating more casualties, ISIS members and refugees.

The use of drone warfare has been especially brutal. Democracy Now! An independent global news publication released an article (DATE) featuring Air Force veterans of the drone program that voiced opposition for the practice.

In an open letter to President Obama, Ashton B. Carter Secretary of the Department of Defense, John O. Brennan Director of the CIA, and four service members described the drone program as a “devastating driving force for terrorism and destabilization around the world.”

The letter went on to say that the service members witnessed abuse of power, mismanagement and political leaders outright lying about the effectiveness of the program.  All of the veterans involved in writing the letter also suffer from PTSD as a consequence of their actions.

All in all, the war in Syria and U.S. involvement isn’t as clean cut as leaders will have us believe. And if the war were to intensify, we may find ourselves in the same hopeless quagmire as we did with the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

France already started bombing Syria just days after the Paris attacks while Russia has sworn retribution by intensifying bombing as well, only increasing the rate at which refugees flee the country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees latest figures estimate 4,289,792 registered refugees from Syria, many of which will resettle in Europe and the U.S. among other places.

People may recall the gruesome image of the drowned Syrian boy that circulated through the news and social media. The powerful imagery was enough to remind some of the gravity of what refugees face.

Political candidate Donald Trump has proposed that all Syrian Refugees register in a national tracking database, comparing them to a potential ISIS Trojan horse. Some in the media have been quick to call this out and draw parallels to what the Nazis did to the Jewish population during the beginning of World War II.

By isolating the population and fueling  fear, Trump and other political figure heads are making things so much worse. Spreading fear only helps to drive a divisive stake between muslims and everyone else, which is playing exactly into their hands.

If people give into the fear-mongering then the terrorists have already accomplished their goal.

Propaganda and nationalism throughout social media, whether intentional or not, is helping to fuel the war machine that the United States will inevitably unleash in Syria. The American people are sick of war, lack of care for our veterans who return from conflict and the general human suffering

As mentioned earlier in this issue, journalists have the obligation of ensuring that the general public is in the know, and with the flurry of emotional reposts it seems easy to get lost as to what a reader should believe. Think before you post.

Aztec Press photo illustration by Alex Fruechtenicht

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