Political leaders are slowly warming to social networks, notably during election campaigns. But when votes are not at stake, just how open are world leaders? Do they engage their online fans and followers? Are they using and abusing social networks?
As the Obama administration continues deliberation as to what action will be taken in regard to the recent chemical warfare that was deployed on Syrian civilians causing 1,300 casualties, it gives us a chance to take a look at political leaders and their use of social media – the main focus the: Syrian president himself, Bashar al-Assad.
The Instagram account has around 1,700 followers — a figure close to his number of Twitter followers (1,647) — and 69 uploaded photos. The images choosen certainly have some connection to the top-tier Western PR professionals that were hired by the President of Syria to counter-act the problematic image as brutal dictators. The choosen images carefully dodge the crucial topic of the day: the ongoing insurgency and attendant government crackdown which together have left a wake of civilian casualties and global outrage.
As we have discussed in past classes, the main objective of social media is for people to be able to express their opinion. When a company, or in this case a political party, disables that opportunity for expression, frustrations build leading to assumptions as to why the comment option was disabled. On Bashar al-Assad’s account there has been evidence of comment exclusion, as people interact with others whose remarks have already been changed: “Rama shut up. The only traitor is you. Go to america if you’re dont happy,” one user writes, but there’s no comment from Rama to be found. A third party followed up with an existential query: “Will this comment survive the night?” The authoritarian Syrian government is no stranger to censorship —the country is subject to massive information blackouts.
It appears that the use of social media among some political leaders has lead to a new debate; is the Internet less a platofrm to bring together the masses and now more of a propaganda tool?