President Obama’s unexpected announcement that he would seek a vote from Congress on action in Syria has completely dominated traditional and social media this week. President Obama saw a rare drop in TrendPo rank, moving to #2 behind Syria. The top issues and people all revolve around Syria this week – the top ten list includes John Kerry, John McCain, Israel, National Security and the United Nations.
People and issue that directly involve Syria have seen big jumps in national media coverage – this isn’t particularly surprising considering the possibility of military intervention abroad.
The most interesting new development is the increasing role of social media in the conflict. Opponents of a potential strike on Syria, both foreign and domestic, have used social media to spread their message. The Armed Forces Tea Party page has been posting pictures of uniformed armed services members with anti-war signs. Most of the posts have received a few thousand likes and shares, such as the one below.
The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Syrian government hackers, managed to redirect visitors to a Marine Corps recruitment website to a page using the same pictures.
At the same time, since the beginning of the civil war rebel groups have taken advantage of social media to make their case. Video of the poison gas attack that started the war debate in the US were initially released on social media. This was followed by dozens of homemade videos of victims of the attack. Opposition supporters worked to spread the videos on social media – while not the primary reason, the free availability of the videos put pressure on the Obama administration to act and contributed to intelligence gathering.
The opposition has been active on social media, with an active YouTube, Facebook and Twitter presence intended to share their arguments with the outside world. During last year’s shelling of Homs in Western Syria, opposition activists posted live pictures and video as part of an outreach effort.
As the United States’ role in Syria becomes more defined, we expect to see more efforts to influence public opinion from both the Government and the Opposition.