Syria has seen pro-democracy protests for weeks now, and the ruling regime has increasingly turned violent following a nationwide day of protests on Friday, April 22. Just this week, tanks have entered the city of Deraa, where the uprising began more than a month ago.
As happened in Libya and Egypt, the increase in violence was met with a local media blackout. The regime has expelled a number of foreign correspondents, making it harder for traditional news organizations to operate from within the country.
But just as in those earlier protests, there has also been a steady stream of YouTube videos coming out of Syria documenting the violence. A YouTube spokesperson told us late Wednesday that the site has seen more than 9,400 videos tagged “Syria” or Syria in Arabic in the last seven days. Some of the videos of recent weeks purportedly show scenes of very graphic violence as security forces open fire on protesters, while others reportedly depict troop movements towards Deraa. Last week, YouTube users could witness what was described by uploaders as mass demonstrations against the Syrian regime:
YouTube has been collaborating with the citizen media curator Storyful to showcase some of these videos as part of its Citizentube project. Storyful Editorial Director David Clinch recently told us his company is vetting all its sources through traditional journalistic research and it has “a very high degree of confidence” in the videos curated by his company.
Syria had censored the Internet for years and only recently unblocked access to Facebook and YouTube. The measure was meant to appease citizens and show the regime was willing to reform. Data from Google shows YouTube traffic went sharply up after the site got unblocked.
It looks like YouTube is still largely accessible from within Syria, but there have been reports of phone and Internet access going down in select cities. Citizens of crisis-stricken countries from within the region have, in the past, often resorted to sneakernet access to get the word out about protests and violence against protesters, with Libyans smuggling flash memory drives with mobile phone footage out of the country after authorities shut down Internet access.
However, Global Voices activist Leila Nachawati reminded us this week that the videos coming out of Syria these days, while undoubtedly helping to break down the media blackout, don’t necessarily change the situation on the ground:
“We should keep in mind that although citizens may be winning the communication battle, the weapons are still in the hands of those who have the power over people´s lives.”