Beginning last September, the Twitter account of Syrian 7-year-old Bana Alabed has quickly amassed close to half a million followers and has featured on almost all major American major media channels. Author J.K Rowling is notably a big fan.
Although some online reactions from the usual Twitter alt-right trolls has been vitriolic to the point of nauseam, it’s important to call out the blatant cynicism and exploitative nature of the Twitter account. Looking at the evidence, it becomes clear that the young girl’s venture into social media is actually a carefully planned exercise in propaganda that has turned into a pro-interventionist narrative gravy train for Western journalists.
Bana Alabed exists, and is certainly a resident of East Aleppo as is claimed (see this Bellingcat investigation for a close examination). However, this seven-year-old girl is obviously not responsible for grammatically perfect English tweets absent of any spelling errors that suspiciously mirror neoconservative US calls for intervention, nor her expertly-produced Periscope videos.
It’s also not unreasonable to have a certain level of scepticism when it comes to supposedly authentic, topical Syrian Twitter accounts following 2011’s farcical ‘Gay Girl in Damascus’, who turned out to be a male American student at the University of Edinburgh.
Bana’s mother, Fatemah, is responsible for administering the Twitter account and holds the pro-US interventionist opinions expressed from it. However, she clearly does not have a grasp of English to the same standard as is published in Bana’s tweets if her interview on Periscope is to be believed.
This means that outside assistance is almost certainly used to publish tweets in addition to third party help with filming and photography.
The Alabed family reside in an Al Nusra-controlled territory in East Aleppo, and there are clues that suggest that the family are tied to this organisation alongside other allied Islamist militias.
A quick look at the Facebook and Twitter pages of a friend of the Alabed family, as well as Bana’s translator, video editor and assistant with her Twitter account, Abdulkafi Alhamdo, establishes a link to Al-Nusra and various other terrorist groups through his friends and acquaintances.
Likewise, Bana’s father Ghassan has Twitter and Facebook accounts that follow and republish content from members of al-Zinki, Jaish al Mujahadeen and express admiration to the Saudi cleric Muhaysini, who inspired the al-Nusra movement.
— Ali (@Ali_Kourani) November 28, 2016
A quick look at the history of Bana’s account suggests much more strongly that it is more than just a social media account of a young girl aided by her mother.
Most damningly, the first person to follow her was a journalist from Al-Jazeera. Before she had received any media coverage it is difficult to comprehend why a journalist would follow a random girl from Syria.
In addition to this, the Barbara McKenzie blog discovered that both her father Ghassan and the aforementioned friend and teacher Abdulkafi Alhamdo have a mutual social media friend who is a Western journalist called Patrick Evans. This link predates Bana’s venture into social media, suggesting that media contacts were established before Bana started tweeting.
Bana amassed 65,000 followers by the 3rd of October – two weeks after the account started. She would not garner any significant media interest until later that year, which raises questions about how a young girl without any public identity could gain over 30,000 followers a week to a brand new account.
Wherever you stand on the Syrian crisis and the opinions expressed on Bana Alabed’s Twitter account, it is difficult to deny that significant outside assistance and influence goes into producing the content. That ultimately means that young Bana is being used as the innocent face of other people’s opinions and biases. This is textbook propaganda.
This essentially makes Bana a paradoxical double victim; an innocent child trapped within a conflict over which she has no control, and on the other hand a mouthpiece for one party in the conflict, inadvertently feeding the conflict further.
Leak of Nations | Syria Civil War