Social Media Buzz: Chemical Attack Echoes on Facebook

In the wake of an alleged chemical attack in east Damascus that left as many as 1,300 people dead, activists took to social media to express their outrage.

Written by Alison Tahmizian Meuse Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Many replaced their profile photos with a yellow toxic warning symbol against the silhouette of Syria.

Some opted for a simple design (at right.)

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Others adopted a less subtle message.

One video that caught the world’s attention showed a young girl in a hospital bed, gasping for air in the wake of the attack. I’m alive, I’m alive,” she said.

Syrians on the ground and those taking refuge in neighboring countries are divided over what kind of response they want to see from the international community. While some are advocating strikes against President Bashar al-Assad’s military hardware, others are staunchly opposed to intervention. They are disillusioned with the international community, and skeptical of the renewed rhetoric about U.S. action. They’re not sure that a strike will help their situation in the long run, and think it could be a Band-Aid rather than a permanent solution.

Here’s an example:

BSyria ‏(@BSyria38m):

Once the “limited strike” is done, Assad will consider his dues paid. He will proceed with conventional massacres. #Syria

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On the Facebook page We Are All Hamza Alkhateeb (named for the 13-year-old boy who was tortured to death by security forces in Daraa), the administrator invited members to campaign for strikes against the regime. The call for action launched a string of replies both in favor and against.

We Are All Hamza Alkhateeb: 
I want your help now more than ever. Let’s start this campaign together. Mr. Barack Obama please#Bomb_ASSAD

Zeinah Alman: Why would you want anything from the likes of Obama and his administration, they’re responsible for the countless deaths of children in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I don’t trust them one bit.

We Are All Hamza Alkhateeb: What about Kosovo and Bosnia ???? Who stopped the Massacres there?

Zeinah Alman: I really don’t know…but let them start by creating equality in their own country between the divide of filthy rich and dirt poor, then they can stop the drone strikes on innocent civilians in Pakistan, then they can withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, then they can stop funding Egypt and Israel’s terrorist armies, and the list goes on and on before they can pretend to care about Syrian children. If they “help” something has to be in it for them to gain. History shows they can’t be trusted.

Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see the destruction of Assad’s evil regime. I can’t wait to see those devils destroyed. But we are shouting for help from other bad and selfish people with their own track record of crimes. I’ll continue to pray to God for help, may Allah destroy every evil.

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On Twitter, activists watched increased rhetoric about the proposed strike, some lamenting the “red line” and others rejecting comparisons between the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and a possible intervention in Syria:

Omar ‏(@omarsyria1h):

This is what we get for making fun of Obama’s Red Line.

Nader ‏(@DarthNader15h):

If your newfound Syria analysis involves an Iraq analogy, please, spare me.

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Others on Facebook ignored the possibility of a U.S. strike entirely, simply spreading word about how to react to chemical weapons, for fear of another attack.

One translated post said: “In the event of exposure to chemical weapons: Go up to the top floor and close windows and openings with adhesive tape. Go to the room with the least number of openings and block the door openings with wet towels. If you are outside, cover your mouth and nose with a cloth until you can enter the highest secure place in a high-rise building. Wipe your face with wet towel and soap and water. If exposed to the gas, immediately take off your clothes. Wash your skin with soap and water or any antiseptic at home after [mixing] with water. If you do not have water, use any material such as sand or laundry detergent. If your eyes are exposed to gas wash them immediately with drinking water for 15 minutes.”

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Syria’s artists also took to social media this week. They responded to the chemical attack with caricatures, designs and paintings.

A manipulation of a children’s book showed a family going for a picnic in eastern Ghouta, the site of one of the attacks, with chemical masks pasted over their faces.

On the Facebook page Syrian Revolution Arts, one artist uploaded a piece titled Children of the Chemicals, which depicted a young boy and girl alone in a house wearing gas masks. The door next to them bore a chemical symbol.

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The Facebook page Syrian Revolution 2011 – which has been a hub for protest planning since the outbreak of the revolt – put the fault of any outside strike squarely on the shoulders of the regime in a post to its 844,000-plus members:

“The falling regime alone bears the responsibility for any strike on Syria from third parties … Any external interference in Syria is the fault of the regime alone; the revolution has no hand in it,” they said in Arabic. “If it were not for the intransigence of the head of the regime, his gang and his bloody hold on his chair, the situation in Syria would have never come to this.”

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Elsewhere on Facebook, one Syrian recounted an exchange between himself and a friend, illustrating Syrians’ divergent values and disenchantment. “My friend said to me a little while ago: ‘I’m against intervention; against a strike’,” the post said, also in Arabic. “‘I’m for arming the rebels.’ I laughed and told him, ‘You want to arm the warlords who would sell them or keep them till they’re no longer useful? I’m with a strong quick hit.’ God bless our martyrs whose blood was sold to warlords, and God bless our rebels who are still keeping their vows.”

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