Error message

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

Media That Moves Millions

Media That Moves Millions

Friday, January 17, 2014

By: Sheldon Himelfarb; Sean Aday

Three years to the month since protests swept across the Middle East, the new year once again sees peaceful demonstrators facing off against hardened and sometimes violent security forces, this time in the Ukraine. And like in the Arab Spring, social media is being said to play a significant and potentially decisive role in empowering Euromaidan protesters in ways that couldn't have been imagined a decade ago.

The Parochial Web

The Parochial Web

Monday, January 13, 2014

By: Anand Varghese

In July 2010, renowned Internet research scholar Ethan Zuckerman gave a TED Talk on “Listening to Global Voices.” He describes how, while the infrastructure of the Internet might create new opportunities for us to have conversations across geographic and cultural boundaries, in reality, we tend to connect with people most like us. As in the offline world, on the Internet, birds of a feather flock together.

Syria’s Socially Mediated Civil War

Syria’s Socially Mediated Civil War

Monday, January 13, 2014

By: Marc Lynch; Deen Freelon; Sean Aday

Much of what the outside world thinks it knows about Syria has come from videos, analysis, and commentary circulated through social media. In the report, leading social media researchers assess the sources of this content, its credibility, and how it travels. Their examination of English-language and Arabic-language Twitter feeds on Syria reveal insular networks with vastly different content, calling into question Western reliance on English-only sources of information on the conflict. 

Syria Gamers at USIP Jockey for 'Best Possible Peace'

Syria Gamers at USIP Jockey for 'Best Possible Peace'

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

By: USIP Staff

The posturing of Syrian, regional and international players in the first USIP-Foreign Policy magazine PeaceGame played out not only in USIP's Great Hall and via webcast, but also on Twitter. More than 40 players took on roles from President Bashar al-Assad to the United Nations to Sunni Islamists.

View All Publications