So this week Syria Deeply and many other news outlets have reported about Eliot Higgins, a 34 years old from England. A very ordinary life, a daily job from 9 to 5, a wife, a small child. But, wait, this is the man behind the famous Brown Moses` blogwhich, after the beginning of the Syrian uprising has turned into a source for many journalists and activists around the world.
Higgins does not speak Arabic and has never been in the Arab world or “anywhere in the Middle East”, he says, “other than the Dubai airport”. Yet, he was able to build up a powerful list of resources, mostly YouTube channels, that document what`s happening in Syria. Starting as a “news junkie”, he has so far collected one of the biggest online libraries about the Syrian revolution and has also helped Human Rights Watch to find evidence of the use of cluster bombs in Syria. All of that, using YouTube and social media only.
Higgins says here:
“Sitting in my living room in England, it’s incredible to think that from anywhere in the world it’s possible to see the day-to-day struggles of the Syrian people and the scale of the violence they witness. What makes Syria so unusual is — despite the two years of conflict in the country, from street protests to civil war — the Internet has rarely been cut off. As a result, there has been a constant flow of information from the country through social media — with hundreds of thousands of Syrian YouTube videos, Tweets, and Facebook posts over the last two years. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, a maelstrom of data”.
This makes me think about Andy Carvin, the NPR new media specialist who has become well known to the international and Arab crowd for having documented the Arab Spring without moving from Washington DC.
Despite I really admire folks like Andy and Eliot, I find really hard to embrace their theory of documenting something without never having been on the ground, without speaking the language, without understanding the culture. I have myself lived in Syria for years, I speak the language and know many things about the culture, but I find so hard to keep track of everything, verify all the accents in local dialects from different places in Syria, the geography, etc.
If we can document and verify things remotely, only using social media, like Andy and Eliot do, well then why spending so many years and hours and hours of hard study to understand a language, a culture?
I admire them, but remain skeptical.
And, the “sitting on your sofa and watching” thing made me think of this very sad cartoon which Syrians are widely sharing on Facebook these days…