Preserve Social Media Data to Ensure Justice for Syrian People

By David M. Crane & Jennifer M. Grygiel

(Republished from syracuse.com | Oct. 3, 2016) Social media has taken the world by storm. Platforms and the prevalence of mobile phones have changed the culture of how we connect to the Internet and each other. How we view the world. What we see. And for many is now a part of our everyday being.

“Buried within this tsunami of information is possible criminal information that can be used as evidence to prosecute domestic or international crimes.”

Real-time connectivity and access to information is now the norm. We don’t just connect to our friends and family; we are connected to people around the world. We are world citizens communicating via binary code — the universal language that our machines speak in.

The web has opened up places that would be closed to us otherwise. We have newfound access and the ability to see into the dark corners of the world where conflict and impunity reign. We are able to gain knowledge but also bear witness to crimes against humanity, suffering and tragedy. Social media in particular has shed light on what is happening in South Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar and Venezuela. Atrocities are more difficult to cover up and hide when citizens have the ability to document and publish the truth via social media.

Since March 2011, during the Arab Spring, the people of Syria began their long march to freedom down an uncertain road. Information began to flow out of the country slowly at first, then as a torrent of data. The data is collected daily by the media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), governments, citizens as well as authoritarian regimes. Almost all of it raw, unverified and void of authenticity. The sheer volume of data creates challenges.

Buried within this tsunami of information is possible criminal information that can be used as evidence to prosecute domestic or international crimes. Organizations that are working to collect and utilize this data are overwhelmed by the volume, analysis and technology limitations …

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INSCT Faculty Member David M. Crane is a law professor at Syracuse University College of Law. He is an expert in war crimes. Jennifer M. Grygiel is assistant professor of communications/social media at SU’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.