Computer scientists have used the pattern of social media communication in Syria to reveal the structure of opposing forces in the civil war.
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These guys studied over 600 Twitter and YouTube accounts that post or link to content related to the Syrian conflict. Since many of these accounts point to each other or similar content, they form communities amongst themselves. So O’Callaghan and co used a standard community detection algorithm to tease apart how the accounts were aligned.
The results reveal 16 separate communities which together form four clearly aligned groups. The first are Jihadist, made up of three communities and including accounts associated with Al-Qa’ida.
The second are Kurdish, consisting of a community of political parties and another of youth organisations.
The third is Pro-Assad and consists of essentially one community of supporters of the current Syrian regime.
The final group is made up of ten communities who are characterised as secular or moderate opposition. This includes accounts that support the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian National Coalition.
O’Callaghan and co go on to analyse a representative community from each group. For example, one community supporting the Free Syrian Army consists of 105 social media accounts including one with 73,000 followers that supplies photographs of unidentified bodies so that people can help identify them.