As the proliferation of cell phone technology increased by mid 2000s, so did the rise of new media in terms of first hand cell phone videos and images that could be immediately published on the internet on various blogs and sites (like youtube, liveleak etc). The birth of twitter (2008) and instagram (2010?) led to the creation of social media. The growth of these new mass media has played a heavy influence in insurgencies across the globe.
From Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel vs Hamas, Russia vs Ukraine, the ‘Arab spring movements in 2011 in Egypt, Libya and Syria they have played a heavy role instigating these events and also influencing viewers behind their computers. In the case of the Arab spring movements that occurred through the Middle East, protests from the local populous began against the existing dictatorships were galvanized by the use of social media as images and videos of governments’ heavy crackdown fueled the fire for these protestors. While some of the protests were suppressed (Kuwait, Tunisia, Bahrain), some led to an overthrow of the previous regime of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak and ousted the regime of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, while one led to the civil war that is now engulfing Syria.
So how does the new media influence and alter the course of history in our world? The advert of new media lets both sides but primarily the least powerful combatant/insurgents bring in a new angle to the viewership of non-participants around the globe. It enables an insurgent group or a non state actors to change the narrative and the gravity of the conflict to population half a globe away. It also third parties not involved in the conflict, to provide information and communications between non state actors and the local population. The proliferation of new media has become a major factor in the success or failure of these uprisings in the Middle East because it now allows new media to reach its supporters or neutral viewers of these conflicts, who are now in some way playing a role in these uprisings. It also allows these non state actors and even a single individual, to portray the plight of these groups against heavy government crackdown to the outside world to gather support and involvement of other state actors in their conflict. The NATO bombings of Libya and the support of the Free Syria Army by Western and Middle East state actors are prime examples of the role of new media.
While one could argue that new media has shed a light of these conflicts and has been a positive influence throughout the world, it also fuels the fire for terror groups throughout Syria, Iraq, Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The growth of new media has some role in the proliferation of Islamic terror groups in these nations.
It started early back in 2004 when video clips of IED attacks against American soldiers in Iraq began circulating around various websites including liveleak. As attacks continued and the insurgency grew over the years, various Islamic groups began to use the new media to gather support, involvement of these viewers and broaden their core of supporters throughout the world.
Fighting in the name and defense of Allah, various Sunni groups have propped up in Syria. Now I will preface and say that by the end of US involvement in Iraq in 2011 most of these active Islamic Sunni groups were defeated while some crossed the border and into Syria and starting fighting the Shia led Al-Assad Government along with the Free Syria Army. One of these groups is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Founded in 2006, they were called the Al Qaeda in Iraq fighting against American soldiers and bombing both Sunni and Shia populations of Iraq. The Anbar awakening led to their ouster from Iraq and onto Syria.
By 2013, their vicious attacks and massacres on both Sunni and Shia population of Syria that it led to the condemnation of ISIS by both the Afghani Taliban and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, leader of Al-Qaeda. In June 2014, they returned to Iraq overrunning major cities of Iraq-Mosul, Tikrit with virtually no opposition from the Shia led-American trained and funded Iraqi Army.
ISIS have used social media as a medium to broadcast their various activities and theology. They have uploaded high quality combat footages of their attacks-IEDs, close combat encounters, ambushes- on Syrian and Iraqi Army on Youtube and liveleak while also uploading brutal execution videos of civilians (including the execution of a one year old child) and Prisoners of Wars from both nations. But it isn’t just video platforms they use to ‘spread their message’. They have used Twitter to post images of their activities in addition to gathering financial support (by posting links to website for donations). They have also developed an app for twitter where users of the app would get a notification of a tweet from their various twitter handles. You have the option of choosing it in Arabic or English. They have their own monthly published jihadist magazine that consist of news from various ISIS battlegrounds as well as publications of support from various sympathizers of their cause from around the world.
But these aren’t some vapid radicals behind these new forms of media. Most of the social media platforms are created and managed by radicals who were born in the Western World (most of them from Europe). And in some of the twitter and instagram accounts, it’s clearly visible. Some of their members involved in Syria often tweeting images of stray cats with nifty captions Western foods they miss easting and sometimes tweeting about missing home.
In a bizarre way, they have created their own social construct that is catered to their own perceived social reality. We all know their rationality. They want to create a caliphate instilling a strict Sharia law across the Middle East. Most of us would regard this group as a religious sociopathic thugs having no sense of humanism. The use of suicide bombings, summary executions while posting images and tweets on their social media handles depicting charity towards the local Sunni population and tweeting original cat memes. It just makes you ponder for a second if some of these insurgents have emotions and empathy.
The role of media and new media has changed the course of history. Anyone with a television and computer can view any conflict with a click of a button and both sides in a conflict have equal footing in this never ending battle for support from humans around the world as well as the hearts and minds. This is the world we all live in for better or for worse.