“The funny thing,” Othman mused, “is that Facebook used to be proud that it was part of the Arab Spring.”
In a letter to potential investors when Facebook filed its IPO last February, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted his social network’s role in undermining tyrannical governments like Syria’s: “By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible. These voices will increase in number and volume. They cannot be ignored.”
Unless, of course, they are deleted by Facebook itself. While Allan declined to comment on individual cases, the company said nothing has changed in its policy with regard to the Syrian conflict. Allan instead suggested that years of content breach may have finally caught up to pages that have been around since early 2011. In other words, it was only a matter of time.
“There comes a point at which a page has breached the rules so many times that the only choice we have left is to close it,” said Allan in a phone interview from London. “We don’t like to take that sanction, it’s not our first option … but if a page repeatedly breaches then it’s going to hit that threshold.” He added, however, that Facebook’s decisions are “based on the quality of the content, not the quantity of reporting. One report about bad content, it will come down. A thousand reports about good content, it won’t come down.”
This isn’t a satisfying answer for activists like Razan Zaitouneh, one of the founders of the LCC system as well as the Violations Documentation Center. In early December, according to SecDev, the famed human-rights lawyer drafted a letter to Facebook imploring policy officials to consider that human-rights groups like her own have nowhere else to go. An exception should be made for those merely seeking to document conflict, she said.
“Facebook pages are the only outlet that allows Syrians and media activists to convey the events and atrocities in Syria to the world,” she wrote in the letter, which was shared by SecDev. "We strongly appeal to you not to make it easier for the Syrian regime to terminate calls for freedom and dignity.”
Zaitouneh never got a response to her letter. On December 9, five men stormed her organization’s office in the Damascus suburb of Douma and kidnapped her, along with her husband and two colleagues, VDC spokesman al-Ahmad said. Their whereabouts and kidnappers are unknown, but the abduction is widely believed to be the work of an Islamist rebel group, the Army of Islam, which is active in an area that was “liberated” from Assad’s grips months ago. Al-Ahmad said Zaitouneh had received threatening letters from an Islamist group shortly before the kidnapping, but he refused to name the group without proper evidence.
Zaitouneh’s kidnapping—and specifically the fact that it appears to have been perpetrated by ‘anti-Assad’ rebel fighters, underlines the bleak reality facing Syria’s non-violent holdouts, who bravely took to the streets in protest three years and 130,000 lives ago. With Assad showing no signs of wavering and al-Qaeda-linked extremists streaming across Syria’s porous borders, the peaceful protesters say they no longer recognize the uprising they used to lead.