The “fog of war” that once obscured our view of conflict zones is quickly giving way to rich information environments due to vast amounts of social media data emerging from these places. But in places like Syria, where traditional news journalists have had little or no access, we have become increasingly dependent on these sources. USIP's Anand Varghese examines the implications of this trend for the field of peacebuilding.

Summary

  • The lack of traditional reporting and verifiable journalistic reports about the ongoing conflict in Syria has led to an increased dependence on social media as a source of news. But assessing the veracity of these reports has proven extremely difficult, creating consistent distortions of Syria’s on-the-ground reality.
  • The large amounts of social media data emerging from conflict zones like Syria and new data analysis tools have the potential to help overcome these distortions.
  • Despite this enthusiasm, a number of conceptual and practical hurdles remain before these tools can create reliable predictive models of conflict dynamics.

About This Brief

This Peace Brief is based on an experts’ meeting co-hosted by USIP’s Center of Innovation for Science, Technology & Peace building as part of its ongoing Blogs & Bullets initiative. Held at Stanford University on April 17th, 2013, the workshop used the ongoing conflict in Syria as a focal point to discuss the increasingly prevalent distortions in social media reports emerging from conflict zones.The meeting examined how new data flows and analytical tools can be used to address these issues and other broader challenges in the peacebuilding field. The author, Anand Varghese, is a senior program specialist in USIP’s Center of Innovation for Science, Technology & Peacebuilding.

 

Related Publications

The Current Situation in Syria

The Current Situation in Syria

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Now in its 10th year, the Syrian conflict has led to more than 500,000 deaths and displaced an estimated 13 million—over half of Syria’s pre-war population. Over 6.2 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 5.6 million are refugees, predominantly in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

Type: Fact Sheet

ISIS Determined to Make a Comeback—How Can it Be Stopped?

ISIS Determined to Make a Comeback—How Can it Be Stopped?

Thursday, August 13, 2020

By: Ashish Kumar Sen

The Islamic State (ISIS), which was driven from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq over a year ago, is determined to regain territory in the region. It will take a combination of military and financial pressure, attention to public grievances, and the repatriation and rehabilitation of people who lived or fought with ISIS—as well as those who were subjugated by them—to foil the militant group’s ambitions, according to senior U.S. officials. This already tall ask has been made even more challenging by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Violent Extremism

COVID Will Lead to More Child Marriage—What Can Be Done?

COVID Will Lead to More Child Marriage—What Can Be Done?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

By: Joud Monla-Hassan; Mona Yacoubian

The impact of the COVID pandemic continues to be felt around the world, with economies shuttered and political systems increasingly strained. Another of the downwind effects of the pandemic—one that has not been leading the headlines—is that it is expected to lead to a sharp increase in early child marriage. In many countries, when crisis hits, early child marriage increases exponentially.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Human Rights; Gender

Coronavirus Throws Another Challenge at Syria’s Doctors

Coronavirus Throws Another Challenge at Syria’s Doctors

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

By: Anthony Navone

As COVID starts to surge in Syria, the pandemic poses extraordinary challenges in one of the world’s most complex conflict zones. Nearly a decade of war has left Syria’s health care system in shambles. With supplies and trained personnel scarce, medical providers have struggled to meet the needs of millions of displaced Syrians. Meanwhile, medical workers have not been spared from the violence—despite international condemnation, health care facilities have been targeted by military strikes over 500 times since 2011.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Health

View All Publications