Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched an official Instagram account earlier this month, marking his latest efforts to control the propaganda war being waged in parallel with bloody civil conflict. The Assad regime published its first photo to the account on July 24th and has since posted 68 others. The longtime president already has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter, and at the time of this writing, has garnered more than 3,000 followers on Instagram.
As the Washington Post reports, many of Assad's Instagram photos appear to be re-posts from his Facebook and Twitter accounts, and they all cast him in a favorable light. In one shot, a smiling Assad is surrounded by a throng of supporters. In another, he's seen shaking the hand of a young girl. His wife, Asma, is featured just as prominently on the account, appearing in several photos alongside children, senior citizens, and hospital patients. The British-born first lady had been conspicuously absent from the media for a full year before reemerging in January, fueling speculation that she had either fled the country or given birth to their fourth child.
While it's not unusual for world leaders to use social media as a vehicle for propaganda, few are facing the kind of domestic conflict that Assad faces in Syria. Last week, the United Nations said that more than 100,000 people have died in Syria since civil war broke out there more than two years ago, spawning more than one million refugees. Diplomats from the US and Russia have been working to broker peace talks between Assad and the various opposition groups looking to overthrow him, though a date has not been confirmed.
Syria's heavily censored media and tattered communications infrastructure have made it difficult for many to frame its civil war within a clear narrative. Many foreign correspondents have been killed since the war began, and those remaining can operate only within restricted confines. As a result, both Assad and opposition leaders have been racing to fill the void with their respective forms of propaganda. Rebel groups have flooded social media with questionable videos, while pro-Assad groups such as the Syrian Electronic Army have hacked high-profile Twitter accounts to spread their own (somewhat muddled) beliefs.
According to the Post, anti-Assad users have posted critical comments on some of the president's Instagram photos, though the account's administrator appears to be censoring them more strictly.