What does a social-media company do when a user known to be attacking civilians is blasting out feel-good content? I posed this question to Instagram about Assad’s user stream. Alison Schumer, who works on the company’s policy and communications team, told me that she cannot comment on specific accounts, even if the account is a global public figure. But she explained that, generally speaking, if a user created content that promoted violence, Instagram would remove it and possibly disable the user. Schumer stressed the importance of the context of the image in making those calls—a caption might make an image threatening, for instance—but also said that “context” is generally limited to content on the site. What matters, then, is that the picture Assad puts up depicts his wife assisting a disabled child—the caption on that one translates as “In order for the people with special needs to give and create, they must be directed out of the space of pity, charity and compassion The First Lady Asma al Assad #syria#Asma#Assad#handicapped”—rather than whether he is promoting a violent regime. Perhaps if he began to post videos of gassed children, Instagram would take down the account.
Groups that support Assad, notably the Syrian Electronic Army, have hacked the Web sites and social-media presences of various news organizations, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, flooding their Web sites and Twitter accounts with pro-Assad messages. [Last] week, the group targeted Organizing for America, a project of President Obama’s, by taking over its Twitter account and posting links to its own content, including a video “showing the truth about Syria.” Two and a half years ago, Syrian officials began to demand citizens’ Facebook passwords, sometimes to post conspicuously pro-regime content.
Caption for the above photo, uploaded to Assad’s Instagram on October 31:
من إحدى الزيارات السابقة للسيد الرئيس بشار الأسد والسيدة عقيلتة لذوي الإحتياجات الخاصة. #سورية#بشار#أسماء# a visit by the President and the First Lady to the people with special needs. #syria#Bashar#AssadFollow