As a humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in Syria after deadly fighting intensified in Syria’s Aleppo, over 11 million tweets on social media call attention to how users want to shed light on the bloodshed by #MakingFacebookRed and by using the worldwide trending hashtag #AleppoIsBurning that started sweeping Twitter Friday. In order to highlight the suffering of Syrians, more than 36,000 social media users have pledged to deactivate their Facebook accounts on Sunday 12:00am Aleppo local time.
Novelist and producer Noor Al Haraki, ambassador of the International Organization for Development and Human Rights and Chairman of the Global Arab Forum for Peace, said that the 11 million tweets and posts for Aleppo that went viral on Instagram and twitter represent "cries for world conscience awakening" to save Syria.
The users are pressuring Facebook to initiate a safety check for Syria, the same as safety checks Facebook offered during the Paris attacks. By deactivating their accounts at 12.00am Aleppo local time, Facebook users are hoping to reach 100,000 deactivations, in order to make Facebook lose money for not acknowledging the suffering of the Syrian people and for remaining silent about what users have labelled as "genocide" of the Syrian people, as stated on the Facebook event.
Many Facebook users have turned their profile pictures red to raise awareness on the Syrian humanitarian catastrophe, most recently the horrendous attacks in Aleppo. Social media reactions augmented as at least 200 people have been killed in the last nine days in airstrikes and shelling on contested neighbourhoods of the city, including a vital medical facility that was hit Wednesday.
In the worst recent attack, an air strike destroyed a hospital in a rebel held area overnight Wednesday-Thursday. The French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which supported the hospital, said Friday the death toll had risen to at least 50, including six medics.
The United Nations along with the Arab League and several international organisations have strongly condemned the attacks and called for a revival of peace talks, especially that the government ceasefire excludes Aleppo.
Nisan Ahmado, a Syrian blogger, told Ahram Online that the absence of international organisations in disaster areas in Syria makes it difficult for them to report what is happening. Social media is filling the vacuum in the stead of these organisations that themselves should fill the void made by collapsing governmental and civil institutions.
The Syrian conflict has killed more than 240,000 people, forced more than four million to flee the country, among them two million children, and left some 7.6 million internally displaced, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in its latest report.
“In the Syrian case, there is a sense that the atrocities that people are going through are treated in a mechanical and indifferent manner. Especially when it comes to reacting against the bombing of hospitals, an urgency to protest and act is created on social media. “ Ahmado says.
A number of insurgent groups control several neighbourhoods of Syria's largest city and economic hub, which has been rocked by airstrikes and is being attacked from the west, south and east by government forces. The only rebel supply line is a corridor that links the city with northern parts of the province, leading to the Turkish border, AP reports.
Government forces and their allies control most of the eastern neighbourhoods as well as the international airport and the nearby Nairab Airbase.
Militants from the Islamic State group used to control several neighbourhoods in Aleppo, but they were forced out by other rebels in early 2014.
The main Kurdish militia, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, controls several predominantly Kurdish northern neighbourhoods.
The main insurgent groups in the city are the ultraconservative Ahrar Al-Sham group; the Nour El-Din Zengi; the Tawhid Brigade; and Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria. Smaller groups are also involved in the fighting
“It seems to me that in the Syrian case international organisations' role is now limited to documentation and authentication rather than reporting and demanding action,” Ahmado adds.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Araby said in a statement Friday that the people responsible for the crimes committed in Syria must be punished. He stressed the need for more effort to sustain a ceasefire and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid into areas suffering from armed struggle.
Al-Araby renewed the Arab League's call for pursuing a political resolution to the Syrian crisis.
Social media’s imperative role
The trending hashtags started spreading once pictures of the attack on the hospital circulated on social media and more photos and videos followed. Users started calling for action, especially after a pediatrician was killed in the hospital attack. MSF said at least 14 patients and three doctors had been killed in the air strike on Al-Quds Hospital.
Among those killed was Mohammed Wasim Moaz, one of the city's last pediatricians, MSF said.
“Social media is closer to people, faster, and easier to reach by anyone who can cast out a message to a larger audience. It is more efficient and effective in conflict areas because it cannot be restricted, and it is an open source of information 24/7,“ Ahmado adds.
Because social media users also realise that actions speak louder than words, in addition to the hashtags and posts, some put together links to organisations with campaigns supporting the Syrian people and asked others who wish to donate money to Syria to contact these organisations. They underlined that the donation can be small, but that anything would help.