A report released by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has identified a series of social media profiles, individuals, media outlets, and organizations that have peddled false information about the realities in Syria, specifically against the White Helmets. The conspiracy network, which was revealed to be coordinated with Russian campaigns, has sent thousands of disinformation posts on social media sites Twitter and Facebook, left to be seen and consumed by millions.

Since Syrians demanded their freedom from a longstanding autocracy 11 years ago, the current regime has utilized violence and disinformation to cull the voice of the opposition. The ISD research identified 28 entities who have been observed to spread false information regarding the Syrian conflict. These channels have disseminated about 47,000 tweets and 817 Facebook posts to peddle an inaccurate depiction of Syria from 2015 to 2021.

These social media posts reached over 1.8 million individual accounts, not accounting for how many times individuals shared these. Three primary false narratives were being presented among the network. One was the misrepresentation of the White Helmets, a volunteer group that helps Syrian refugees evacuate the country.


The White Helmets

The White Helmets officially called the Syria Civil Defense, is a 3,400-volunteer strong humanitarian organization. Their volunteers are mostly former professionals who have now committed their lives to rescuing civilians from the aftermath of airstrikes on Syrian cities.

The group has documented, through first-hand video footage, several incidents of war crimes in the country. This included rescue operations for those experiencing the effects of sarin, a nerve agent used in various attacks in Syria. However, they specifically helped during a sarin attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun in 2017. Chemical weapons watchdog, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a report confirming the presence of the substance in samples taken from the blood and urine of the victims.

The attack killed 92 civilians, over a third of which are minors. The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the claim as “biased” and “doubt,” but was later found on reasonable grounds by the United Nations. Unsurprisingly, the volunteer group’s involvement in spreading the truth about the horrors of what’s happening on the ground made them a target of Russian propaganda. 

“This is the thing that has annoyed not just the Assad regime and Russian authorities but a lot of the propagandists who work in their orbit,” Amnesty International’s Kristyan Benedict said. He referred to the group’s unique opportunity to capture first-hand footage of the atrocities while doing their volunteer work.