With all the talk about Syrian protesters embracing Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, we often don't hear much about the Syrian regime's own cyber activists: the Syrian Electronic Army. Today, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reminds us of their existence, explaining how e-army members--whom it claims are "not hackers"--convey the "true image of the events in Syria" by "monitoring what is being published on Arab and foreign web pages and then leaving hundreds of thousands of messages on these pages"--effectively turning the opposition's "weapons" against them. So, if not hackers, sort of comments commandos.
This isn't the first time officials have publicly praised the Syrian Electronic Army. In an address to the nation in June, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad congratulated the anonymous network for serving as "a real army in virtual reality." The regime claims e-army members are simply patriotic youth, but dissident Rami Nakhleh tells AFP that they are regime "thugs" and Iranian activists (the article identifies one e-army member: the son of a powerful Syrian intelligence officer and ambassador to Jordan). The University of Toronto's Ronald Diebert, who's been researching the Syrian Electronic Army, tells PRI that the organization must have at least "the tacit approval of the government," and adds that the group's IP addresses have been traced to an NGO formerly run by Assad.