Should “they” be allowed to use social media? Who are “they”?

So Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad is using Instagram to paint a more rosy picture of his presidency than the civil war-torn images we see every day in the news. Images of Al-Assad at official meetings, visiting school kids and at a wounded person’s hospital bedside are clearly intended to humanize the president, as are the numerous images of Al-Assad’s wife in a photo op at a community group.

Image from SyrianPresidency Instagram account

Image from SyrianPresidency Instagram account

Kate Knibbs at Digital Trends takes a cynical view, noting, “Looking at Assad’s Instagram account, you’d think he was third cousins with Mother Theresa instead of the son of a dictator, leading one side of an intensely bloody conflict.”

Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson, on the For Immediate Release podcast, are a little more practical, noting that while people like Al-Assad and Chechnyan president Ramzan Kadyrov (also mentioned in the Digital Trends post) may be widely regarded negatively, they employ people who are just as digitally-savvy as many of us.

While I sat with a look of distaste on my face at the clear propaganda as I browsed the account (which has about 32,000 followers at time of writing), it occurred to me:

How is this any more wrong than any government using social media?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are two sides to any story.

Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels. People used to live in here. Terrifying.

I just returned from vacation in Vietnam, where the “American War” is still fresh in many memories. While there, we visited the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, the Viet Cong tunnels at Cu Chi, the War Museum in Hue and the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. The picture of the war I got through these sites was starkly different to that we see in North America.

Which of these sides of the story is right? While I was conscious that much of what I saw was very one-sided, it also made me wonder how one-sided the picture that we have of other events is.

In this case, how is Al-Assad using social media wrong while Barack Obama, Stephen Harper and David Cameron can use it?

I’m certainly not comparing these people to Al-Assad – and in no way am I making any argument about his offline actions. The reaction to his Instagram account certainly got me thinking, though – who gets to determine who the “bad guys” are, and what they can or can’t do online?

How should we feel about it when the “bad guys” do what our own leaders do every day?

14 Responses toShould “they” be allowed to use social media? Who are “they”?

  • karimkanji
    ago7 years

    What do you think Fleet? My thoughts: I may disagree with what someone says or does. But if we don’t protect the right of someone to “say” what they believe then my rights to “tweet what I want” may be taken from me.

    • karimkanji There are multiple angles here. I agree with your take from a freedom of speech perspective (not that they necessarily allow the same in their countries), but for me I’m more curious about how we determine that the rules are different for the “bad guys” and the “good guys.” 

      Where it gets even more interesting is when you consider that different people would perceive the “bad” and “good” guys as being the other way around.

  • ethnicomm
    ago7 years

    The definition of good or bad is relative. After 9-11, we used to think that warrantless wiretapping was a good thing until we realized that it applied to everyone.  All of a sudden, the good guys became the bad guys. What scares me is that as we move towards more connectivity around the world, we are actually becoming less transparent.

  • mblanke3
    ago7 years

    This may not be a matter of “good guys” and “bad guys.” From my perspective, what is going on in Syria is devastating and brutal, but that does not limit the fact that there could be two sides to this story. Why reject this information when we can gain more perspective? Even if we perceive these images to be dishonest representations, we are provided with more information.

  • MagnificTrainings
    ago7 years

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  • Zac Pagin
    ago7 years

    karimkanji Yeah right to freedom of speech or expression still applies 🙂

  • Zac Pagin
    ago7 years

    Yes, everyone is allowed to use social media. Everyone wants to share the rosy side of their life 😀

  • thinkbox321
    ago7 years

    Thanks for sharing so interesting article with us. I agree with your idea completely. I am looking forward to another great article from you. 
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  • kolo0094
    ago7 years

    Even though it may be propaganda, people like Al-Assad still have the right to use Instagram to further their message. Most instagram users who know Al-Assad’s name will not change their views based on any picture he might take. It might help some users to gain perspective on an issue that many Americans are not fully informed on. I might look at his instagram out of pure curiosity of how he is trying to spin his message to the Syrian people. It might not be a popular opinion, but following Al-Assad on instagram could help PR professionals understand how foreign governments use social media when there is great resistance from their people.

  • bitt0073
    ago7 years

    From a PR perspective, this post raises good questions of ethics. I am not endorsing Al-Assad in anyway, however I agree that he has just as much right to an Instagram account as Barack Obama or any other political leader. For a politician, social media is a great tactic for “humanizing” your image and engaging with your supporters. I did take a look at the Instagram account and it does look a lot like propaganda. However, it is the individual’s responsibility to look at that message and form an opinion on it. Hopefully no one would see an image of Al-Assad speaking to young students and think “hey, he actually seems like a pretty nice guy. I like what he is doing.” Luckily, we are well informed enough to know the truth and take his phony social media with a grain of salt. Social media can be an effective strategy, but it is not the be-all-end-all for a reputation or a miracle worker. This goes for any unethical figure or “bad guy” using social media. They can reach out on social media for as long as they want, but their true image will be strengthened through media coverage, word of mouth, etc. Let them share their side of the story, in the end it probably won’t change anyone’s minds. Really enjoyed this interesting article, thanks!

  • linxminx
    ago7 years

    This discussion of ethics in social media marketing sheds light on the newest forum for the age-old act of propaganda in a way that questions the morality/acceptability of employing social media to position a political person or governing body.
    It is clear from Al-Assad’s Instagram posts that the act & function of propaganda has not changed much in the last 100 years.  And from what we can see, Al-Assad and his team of propaganda experts have mastered the use of social media forums to bolster public opinion of the Dictator and his family.  While it is evident that the innate wide-reaching effect of social media does provide a threat of unsavory figures exerting influence on larger populations than ever before, the same rules of promotion/ advertising apply here- where consumers of any content must critically evaluate both the information and the sources they encounter to determine for themselves what they believe to be true.
    To this end, the very nature of social media is that it is based in a digital world of information and content sharing without limits.  So, to me, it seems unlikely that users who encounter Al-Assad’s favorable Instagram posts would be prevented access from his negative portrayals unless external acts to control/limit the negative representation of a political figure occur.  If this is so, then it is clearly the act of controlling & manipulating public information for political gain that is morally/ socially corrupt or “bad” and not the employment of social media.

  • In my opinion, the Government or any Governmental Person should have the full freedom of keeping himself socially alive. But i agree with the thing in this article that is, what should somebody believe in? 
    Some Dictator trying to make himself helpful, co-operative, and stuff like that or the killings and other issues happening in the country?

  • AmitSwarupKumarRai
    ago7 years

    Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are two sides to any story.

  • idea software
    ago6 years

    Awesome post! thanks for sharing