Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad is no stranger to Twitter. But is "the official Instagram account for the Presidency of the Syrian Arab Republic," which launched on July 24 (and found by Patrick Witty, of Time), a real social media strategy from the dictator that has used sarin gas (according to the U.S. government) on opposition forces and killed at least 4,000 of his own civilian populace (estimated by Human Rights Watch) in air strikes alone?
Like most classic political PR, the genocidal Instagram account includes photos of a pore-less Al-Assad holding hands with a severely bandaged man on a hospital bed, talking to children standing near hospital beds, and his wife, Asma Al-Assad, listening to women in hospital beds.
Asma, who has been criticized for her expensive tastes and bad jokes about massacres, is also photographed wiping away a child’s tears, helping children paint smiley faces, and hand-feeding the elderly. In Assad’s alternate Instagram universe, teenagers give the regime a big ‘ol thumbs up, and passionate crowds have to be restrained…from loving him too hard.
So far, this galling rewrite of some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by a government on its own civilian populace has 66 posts between July 24 and July 28, and some 848 followers, most of whom are probably hoping their endorsement means they won’t get murdered. Instagram wouldn’t confirm that the actual Syrian president’s office was behind the account, but the president’s real Twitter handle tweeted a link to the feed last week.
If you’re looking for a counterpoint to the rosy, if not totally obscene curation on the president’s Instagram, at least YouTube has come through in disseminating some of the only direct footage from the violence in Syria, where foreign journalists are largely banned. The New York Times and Human Rights Watch both have feeds dedicated to collecting these videos, which capture events like (Warning: All of the following are graphic and devastating) 20 members of one Sunni family (including women and nine children) murdered by government forces two months ago in Baniyas, 22 dead civilians from government-fired mortar rounds, and village elders gunned down by Assad forces before peace talks in Homs.
Assad’s Instagram account launched the day before UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that some 100,000 Syrians had been killed in two-and-a-half years of civil war.