Truth and lies: The Twitter battle for Aleppo

Published November 28th, 2016 - 11:25 GMT
Government forces inspect newly captured district of East Aleppo (George Ourfalian/AFP
Government forces inspect newly captured district of East Aleppo (George Ourfalian/AFP

As the Syrian army advances into rebel-held Eastern Aleppo, it is hard to know what to believe. It seems that some accounts for both sides use the truth liberally, and share selectively what serves their interests. 

Bana Alabed, the 7-year-old girl who has gained global media attention for her tweets about life in the embattled district, has been sharing her terrifying ordeal overnight. 

In a series of haunting tweets, Bana and her mother Fatemah, who runs her account, described the approach of the army and heavy bombardment. A later image shows Bana covered in dust, with a caption suggesting that their house had been hit. This has been widely used as a story in Western media this morning.

With 134,000 followers and the blue tick of Twitter verification, it would seem that Bana’s heartbreaking story is undeniably true. However, after the latest tweets, a number of international journalists and observers, as well as Assad supporters, have been sceptical:

Spoof accounts have even been created for Bana’s mother and father, in order to present them as islamists and liars:

Contradicting Bana's account of contant regime assults, others have questioned the consensus in Aleppo:

Added to that, the Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, were forced to apologize over the weekend after they shared a video of aid workers taking part in a “mannequin challenge”. The posed scene, showing rescuers apparently removing someone from the rubble, caused some to ask how easy it is for the rebels to produce fake images of destruction and injury. The Civil Defense later apologized, saying “'This was an error of judgment, and we apologize on behalf of the volunteers involved."

Such accusations are not new. President Assad has previously accused the opposition of producing false pictures, including the iconic video of a dust-covered and apparently shellshocked boy, Omran, sitting in the back of an ambulance in August.

It is hard to know whether such scepticism of the facts is warranted. Official international organizations including the UN and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights report large ongoing civilian casualties in Eastern Aleppo, including more than 219 on Sunday. International media have provided aerial shots of the complete destruction of the rebel-controlled areas of the city. Additionally, it has been widely reported that the UN estimates 250,000 people to be trapped in the area, although it is unclear where these figures have come from precisely.

What is clear, however, is that the government is making rapid advances in Eastern Aleppo, and many say the city will unlikely remain a rebel stronghold for much longer.


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