“We continue our reporting attacks,” read a typical post from December 9 on the SEA’s Facebook page. “Our next target is the Local Coordination Committee of Barzeh [a neighborhood in Damascus], the page that is a partner in shedding Syrian blood and provoking sectarian division.” It then provided two links to photos on the Barzeh page that could get the page taken down. Soon afterwards, the SEA removed its post as if it had never existed.These deletions mean a vast amount of information is being lost, including initial reports of various events, photographs, and videos. But how do we get a sense of how much information is being lost?
In recent weeks, I've been working on a project to gather and analyse all the information I can find relating to the August 21st Sarin attacks in Damascus. This has included collecting a list of YouTube channels posting videos relating to the attacks, many of which have Facebook pages linked in the video descriptions. To understand how much information is being lost, I've reviewed each channel, and detailed the status of their related Facebook pages below.
Abdullah Alshamy - No linked Facebook pages.
cmo algota - Three pages deleted, c.m.o.alghota, c.m.o.alghota2, c.m.o.alghota3
Coordinating Kvrbtna - Current page, Coordinating.City.KafrBatna, created November 2013. Earlier page, kafrbatnasy, deleted.
Darya Revolution - Current page, D.M.C.Daryya, created January 2014. Earlier page, MCDDaryya, deleted.
erbeeni/erbin revo/erbinmedia1/MrERBEEN2011 - Current page, Erbinrevo2011, created November 2013. Earlier page, erbin2011revolution, deleted.
Fadi Abdallah - No linked Facebook pages.
free syr - No linked Facebook pages.
HAMMORIAFOREVER - Hamoria.Revolution.Coordinating deleted.
Information Office of the consolidated city Arbin - No linked Facebook pages.
Jobar Revo - Jobar.Revolution deleted.
lcc douma - Douma.Revolution.lcc created in February 2013.
MajlesRifDimashq - No linked Facebook pages.
Mehmed - No linked Facebook pages.
Mohammed Saeed - No linked Facebook pages.
mrkzmoadamia alsham - Three pages deleted, Moadamiah.Revolution.News, mjles.moadamia4alll,
Network is always free - Damascus - No linked Facebook pages.
SaqbaRevo0 - No linked Facebook pages.
Sham Media Foundation appeal - Foundation.Nidaa.Alsham created April 2013.
9 channels have no Facebook links. 7 are linked to Facebook pages that are now gone (some of which have new replacement pages created after August 21st), with 2 linked to existing Facebook pages. That means 78% of Facebook pages that could have included initial report about the August 21st attack, and relevant photographs and videos, are gone. Compared to the hundreds, if not thousands, of YouTube pages linked to Facebook pages, this is a small sample size, but relating to the one event that took place on August 21st, this represents a extremely significant amount of information.
The question for Facebook is how they see their role in the world. Social media is being used as a place for both sides in the Syrian conflict to get their message out, and sometimes that includes unique and important information. This has lead to an online information war, with both sides attempting to eliminate each other from the internet, with data on war crimes and key events in the conflict being the collateral damage, if not the intended target. Facebook has a choice, develop it's policies to take into account the changing way in which online communities and social media are being used in relation to conflicts, or to be just another place where people can share pictures of their latest meal and funny cat pictures.
You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.