Thinking Aloud: YouTube Says Syrian Rebels Get Anti-Tank Missiles

Apr. 11, 2014 by Darius 

A moderate rebel brigade in Syria has obtained US-made anti-tank missiles.  How does the world know?  Because the weapons appeared in several videos released on YouTube.  In fact, YouTube videos released by various factions have become an important source of information about on-the-ground conditions in Syria.

Media has always played an important role in warfare.  In ancient times, bards sang about heroes’ exploits in battle.  Photography was featured for the first time in the American Civil War.  Newsreels played an important role in maintaining public morale through both world wars.  Live television and the stark images it brought into the living rooms of every American were critical for stoking popular opposition to the US war in Vietnam.  The Syrian conflict is the first major social media war: almost all factions fighting in Syria have their own dedicated YouTube channels, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages.  Moreover, footage has become a powerful weapon in the conflict itself, used for propaganda and promotional purposes.  (See http://notwhatyoumightthink.wordpress.com/2013/10/01/news-you-really-need-to-see-syrias-youtube-war/).  But these same videos also provide foreign intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, vital information about true conditions in Syria.  The method is simple: forget about the main point of the video and analyze the background.

The role of YouTube footage, along with other social media visuals, has become especially important in assessing what’s happening in Syria as (1) traditional journalism has gotten increasingly hazardous and (2) many of the Syrians likely to be in contact with families, friends, and colleagues in the West have left and sought refuge outside the country.

Jane’s, the British defense journal, has a brief analysis of the weapons spotted, where they may have come from, and the group wielding them here:

http://www.janes.com/article/36499/syrian-insurgents-acquire-tow-missiles

Are YouTube videos a reliable source of information?  No, probably not, but they’re better than nothing.  Either way, I hope that moderate rebel group is making good use of its US-made anti-tank missiles. :)

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