Warfare and its mediation run in parallel ways. Outside the battlefield, the events are constantly narrated and reported through a whole range of media platforms that automatically create spectators all over the world. Thus, ‘as far as news of war goes, the media are becoming a second-order paramount reality’ (Silverstone 2007, p.110), hence substituting the tangible face-to-face world. However, this particular space created through the mediation of war is far from being a mere innocuous representation. As Hoskins & O’Loughlin (2010, p.64) suggest, news media blur the war on the ground while delivering it because only the war events that media bring us are interpreted meaningfully. Regarding warfare, media become powerful not because they hold power or agency but because constitute ‘by and large the space where power is decided’ (Castells 2007, p.242). Consequently, new social media – by their particular characteristics – shape differently 1) how war is being constructed; 2) the way the conflict is perceived and 3) the effects that mediation of war have into the conflict’s struggle over power.
The specificity and constrains that characterise the mediation of the current Syrian conflict lie at the core of the above discussion. Amid the lack of an extensive presence of mainstream media platforms on the ground, citizen journalism and social media have become the key pillars of the way the Syrian war is being reported. The day-to-day events of the Syrian war are reported extensively and immediately through social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. This sense of ‘liveness’, together with the multiplicity of actors reporting and the structure of these platforms, highly affect the way the war is constructed and perceived. Moreover, media have become an attached battlefield to the war itself in which different actors involved in the Syrian war struggle to obtain more legitimacy, foster their own discourse and truth and even try to reshape the parameters in which the war is being conducted.
Without any doubt, the proliferation of non-journalist accounts of war and the increasing use of amateur photography and video resources have meant an important cultural shift. As Mathesson & Allan (2009, p.106) highlight, ‘the perspective of an individual speaking outside the frameworks provided by society’s dominant institutions’ has to be acknowledged. Thus, amateur chronicling relying heavily on social media has changed the traditional rules and behaviours of war reporting because its lack of restrictions and hierarchy, and cheapness (Dror in Karam 2013). In Syria, many social networks function as participatory news agencies: each member publishes information regarding an event while other users can prove or disapprove by providing additional facts (Lucas 2012).
The role of images took in Syria and propagated worldwide through social media platforms have been key in this ‘media battle’ that follows the actual struggle in the country. Images are used in order to make evident the ‘truth of war’ (Matheson & Allan 2009, p.147) and, hence, images proliferate as much as different voices configure the battlefield. The generation of a ‘truth of war’ is far from being monolithic; images construct a certain truth of the events but, by definition, cannot provide an ‘accurate representation of war’ (Hoskins & O’Loughlin 2010, p.4).
The question of bias is crucial when analysing any sort of textual or visual informative piece that comes from Syria. Thus, the elaboration of videos, capture of photos or news reporting that flow in the social media have to contextualized within the power and territorial struggle in Syria, one that is progressively defining almost exclusive domination zones for every contender. The spread of this material by hundreds of citizen-journalists does not mean that the conflict is properly covered (Vogt 2013); in fact, disinformation and propaganda are thriving because of the small presence of independent observers on the ground.
Moreover, videos, while can provide us a highly relevant glimpse into war events, are also a ‘potentially warped vision’ of it (Karam 2013) and sometimes simply hoaxes. Verification is an essential cornerstone for those organisations and users that seek to disseminate them responsibly across the web, but also is of capital importance when audiences analyse the content of these videos.
The vast amount of information –visual and textual- that flows within the social media network can become nothing more than a new ‘fog of war’ (Varghese 2013, p.2) that turns a rich information environment into a fully distortioned one. The ‘distortion of evidences and the suppression of contradictory facts’ (Naureckas 2013) reveal the ‘darker side’ of the Syrian war’s social media covering. A war reporting that is not only characterised by bias in the selection of the information provided but also by ‘security concerns for those transmitting the information’ (Curtis 2013). Thus, the fear of one’s identity being discover while using internet in Syria arises as a major obstacle that conditions what sort of information is provided and silences many others. Propaganda and self-censorship (Bogart 2013) clearly affect the quality and relevance of the information delivered.
By the same token, bandwagoning is a process that can easily structure our own understanding of the war; social media amplifies and multiplies so extensively certain content (mainly in Twitter where the option Retweet is largely used) that creates an uneven picture of the events that powerfully appeals to the less informed users.
Thus, in a scenario in which credibility has replaced truth as the main principle regarding the scrutiny of information, legitimacy is of paramount relevance. The attribution of legitimacy to representations of war within the social media ecology becomes more complex because of a) the proliferation of image-weapon tactics (Michalski & Gow 2007, p.212) that hold huge performative power – following a constructivist approach -, and b) the speed with which this various claims circulate within the web (Hoskins & O’Loughlin 2010, p.167).
Those who wish to follow and comprehend the dynamics of the Syrian war stand in front of a ‘Big Brother Battlefield’ (Michalski & Gow 2007, p.221), in which the battle consists in winning ‘hearts, minds and retinas’ (Ibid, p.201) of those ‘witnessing’ the events. Despite the vast amount of information available in real time, the recreation of the war within the social media scenario allow the proliferation of biased information, lack of deep analysis and pose considerable difficulties to adscription of legitimacy and credibility to any of the reports that come from inside Syria amid the thick fog of war. And sometimes, liveness, by being overused, happens to be misguiding.
Here, [in Syria] holding a pen is as dangerous as holding a gun (El Amin in Lucas 2012)