In today’s digital world, even front lines are online. Nowhere has this been truer than in Syria, where groups from all political stand points use online platforms to document human rights violations, spread propaganda and chronicle the realities of life in conflict.
The Violations Documentation Center in Syria (VDC) works as an independent organization documenting violations on human rights. Although the initial vision of the VDC was to act as a reference for the media, it has quickly turned into a database for the international community to be aware of systematic rights violations in the region.
The VDC site utilizes numerous channels to document and distribute information online, including monthly online reports and a twitter account. By playing on the strengths the online media platform offers, namely direct communication with a global community, the organization aims to rectify the falsehoods published by pro Syrian government media outlets.
“This type of documentation is imperative for Syrians living outside the country hoping to find information on loved ones who continue to reside within the country,” said Amil Khan, a former Middle East correspondent for Reuters who started working with the VDC.
The site has become a vital guide, mapping evidence of alleged war crimes that can be put to future use in criminal court. More immediately, Amil Khan adds, “this type of documentation is imperative for Syrians living outside the country hoping to find information on loved ones who continue to reside within the country”.
Unfortunately, it’s not just partisan NGOs that have harnessed the power of digital content. IS militants have exploited the ease of spreading extremist content online to recruit foreign fighters and organize attacks. “Content that taps into that emotion is what is going to be the most effective online,” Amil Khan explains.
There’s little doubt of the strength of ISIS’s digital media saavy within Syria, something many young Syrians are keenly aware of. “If you Googled ‘Raqqa’ in those early days you got their material first and only,” says Abdel Aziz al-Hamza. This was an instigating factor in the establishment of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (Raqqa-SL), an organization co-founded by Hamza and a few other friends who grew up in the besieged Syrian city. Originally established as a Facebook group where members would post photos and recaps of daily life, Raqqa-SL quickly grew into a developed online campaign. The site now runs near daily articles updating followers on the situation on the ground, and a Twitter account with over 78,000 followers. The group was even featured in a the documentary City of Ghosts, which premiered at Sundance this spring.
In an interview with The New Yorker, Hamza emphasizes the importance of having digital platforms for reporting from the the ground in Syria, by Syrians. “If the United States government and other governments want to fight ISIS on social media, their Twitter accounts are seen as propaganda,” he says, “but when real life is shown through us, and you see what life is like, normal people believe it.” Hamza hopes to one day reclaim Raqqa as a city not defined by terrorist occupation, “We believe in the Syrian revolution,” Hamza told Vice Media, “We knew sitting and watching would not help us.”