At just 19 years old, Ala’a Basatneh became an active part of the Syrian revolution. But she wasn’t on the ground fighting: The conflict was taking place 6,000 miles from her childhood home outside of Chicago.
“I knew that I couldn’t go back to Syria and help protest,” Basatneh said. Her family left the country when she was a child, and she said before the revolution began, she knew maybe 10 or so Syrians who still lived there. Today, she’s in touch with many, many more. “I can’t be there on the ground. So the best thing I can do is be online, help translate for them, help them get the footage out from activists to journalists,” Basatneh told Fusion’s Alicia Menendez.
With the help of citizen journalists and bloggers on the ground in Syria, Basatneh was able to bring to light what was happening. Rebels would upload videos to YouTube, where Basatneh would quickly download them so the original poster could delete them from their account. Then she would translate the video, blur the faces, write a headline and caption in English, and re-upload it to YouTube and share it on social media pages. She would also get Facebook login information from protesters. If they contacted her and said they had been detained, she would log in and deactivate their account so the government couldn’t use any of that information against them.
Unlike other countries that were part of the revolutionary wave known as the Arab Spring, the revolution in Syria has lasted longer than any other, and the conflict is still ongoing today. Both sides actively use social media.
“Using a hashtag and tweeting and posting something on Facebook is better than doing nothing,” Basatneh said in response to critics of so-called “hashtag activism.” “It’s better than just watching the news and saying, ‘ugh, I can’t do anything about it I feel so bad for them.’ Ok, but you are helping raise awareness by posting online. You’re helping get the word out.”
Basatneh is the subject of an upcoming documentary called #chicagoGirl.