3451) How a Hashtag Becomes a Tool for Spreading False Rumors: The Case of #SaveKessab


« The problem is that information from Kessab, as such, is very scarce. There is practically no first-hand information. And when there's no information, it's quite easy to replace it with misinformation »

The Twitter hashtag campaign #SaveKessab strives to draw the world's attention to the plight of Armenians in Kessab, a region in northwestern Syria close to the Turkish border.

On the morning of March 21, Syrian rebels invaded Kessab and local Armenians were forced to flee with many escaping to nearby Latakia. Kessab Armenians still hope to return to their homes. The world is watching the development of events in this part of the war-torn country, and it seems that the hashtag #SaveKessab aimed to draw attention to the part of these events that concerned Armenians in particular.
. . .

The #SaveKessab campaign gradually gathered momentum mainly on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Joining the campaign [AM] were famous football players Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Yura Movsisyan. Probably the world's most famous Armenian-American, Kim Kardashian, also lent her support to the campaign.

Some of the Armenians living in Kessab migrated to Syria during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Comparisons with the incidents of 1915 and that, according to various sources, the Syrian rebels seized Kessab from Turkey became an occasion for the #ArmenianGenocide hashtag to be included alongside the #SaveKessab hashtag. Moreover, these parallels played a dominant role in the social media campaign. And it turns out that there is an equal sign placed between the false news about Armenian deaths in Kessab and the 1915 Genocide. American-Armenian journalist Liana Aghajanian accurately assessed the situation in the following tweet:

Use of unverified sources, false photos clearly from different time/country/movies(!) and misuse of word 'genocide' are all doing harm.
— Liana Aghajanian (@LianaAgh) March 29, 2014

Liana noticed rather correctly that fake videos especially (with the hashtag #SaveKessab) spread quickly and with great persistence: images of mass executions that have nothing to do with Kessab (the fake video was disseminated by the Russian news site LifeNews, but the original video was uploaded on YouTube on March 20, prior to the attack on Kessab) and videos prepared from clips of feature films.

Those disseminating this type of false information are often ordinary users who simply want to use social media to show their patriotism or to help resolve the Kessab Armenians' problem however way they can.

The problem is that information from Kessab, as such, is very scarce. There is practically no first-hand information. And when there's no information, it's quite easy to replace it with misinformation.

Asbarez.com was the first that reported 80 deaths — without any reference to the information. There also was no information about the victims' ethnicity. Information about Armenian victims has not been officially confirmed. Rumors about Armenian victims in Kessab were denied [AM] also with the help of social media.

False information, photos and videos spread quickly, since users simply don't spend any time to verify them. Even newsrooms make mistakes and without checking the facts use fake content shared on social media. And #SaveKessab is no exception.

The solution to the issue for journalists is to apply mechanisms to check information obtained from social media. A highly apt handbook is already available online. It's applicable also for ordinary users if they spend a few minutes to verify the information before clicking share, like, or retweet.

Gegham Vardanyan

About the author
Physicist by education, journalist by occupation. Social media trainer. Works for Media Initiatives Center.


Lorig : 01.04.14


ghiath : 01.04.14

@Sylvia: so you're saying that everything that has been presented so far is not false? Here is some of what has been put forward and blamed on the FSA with each claim countered, just so that we are talking about the same claims:


My and many people's complaint about the campaign is that it has been hijacked by Assadist fraudsters who are too willing to besmirch the true massacres that were perpetrated on the Armenian People in the past. These fraudsters care little for the Armenians or any minority, including the Alawites; they are only interested in using them to serve their one and only purpose: the continued survival of the Assadist Mafia.

"Trying to" is hardly the same as "have destroyed and massacred". Would you be so kind as to get your relatives upload a video detailing what they actually saw and experienced. Their claims can then be assessed against other people's testimony and verified. It would be an interesting exercise considering what the Assadist-appointed mayor of Kassab has said. http://www.all4syria.info/Archive/139914

Garin Kantarci : 01.04.14

It's amazing to me that an Armenian could view what is going now in Kessab in a historical and political vacuum, which you seem to be doing here. Lets stick to the fact shall we?

On the date in question, Turkey opened its borders to Al Qaida terrorists to attack the peaceful, non militarized village of Kessab whose only fault was being occupied predominantly by Armenian Christians. Syria scrambled a fighter to protect a village in its borders being attacked by terrorists being sent through Turkey. With no air support, the village couldn't defend itself against an onslaught of jihadists so Armenians of Kessab, who have been living there for the better half of this millennium, were forced to leave their home. Now? After almost 600 years? Not one. During this very same time, Erdogan just so happened to hit the kill switch on twitter, and then, subsequently youtube, when his clandestine plan to attack the town was leaked to the world. This is who you are defending at the moment. Think about that. A Turkish president that even Turks are turning on, well at less the educated, non fundamentalist Turks who want to join the 21st century. Did I mention Turkey still denies their part in the Armenian Genocide and maintains that it was the Armenians who were doing all the killing?

You want first hand information? Please don't expect the media to be the place for it. There was not a single solitary word about what was going on in any newspaper, news station, or even blog. So but for that #savekessab hashtag to want to denigrate, you probably wouldn't even know Armenians are being forced to migrate from their historical home. I have first hand accounts, by family members who are there, I have first hand accounts of what happened the last time fundamentalists Muslims came to the fore and took over Kessab decades ago. The Armenians were to give up their land, their businesses and their women, and leave. But for Assad's father, this would have happened long ago. Now its happening again.

And I find the argument that there is a broader civil war within Syria thus making the Armenian issue moot troubling and incredibly naive. If you recall, the Armenian Genocide wasn't done on its own. It was done during the fog of war of WWI. But for that distraction, there would never have been the leeway to accomplish such atrocities. This is no different. If you are taking this line, then perhaps you believe that the Armenian Genocide was nothing more than a civil war in turkey in which the Armenians killed as many turks as Armenians?

Finally, you know the saying about failing to learn from history and having to live it again, we also know the saying about what to call someone who sees the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Is there a genocide taking place now? No. Are these the steps taken, in the past, before such atrocities took place? Absolutely. And THAT is the story, not the fact that some people post bad articles. I would stick to physics if I was you.

Chris : 01.04.14

Stick to being a physicist Gegham, because you are certainly no journalist and whatever the hell is a social media trainer. Your article is full of factual errors. SYRIAN rebels did NOT seize Kessab from TURKEY. Kessab is a part of SYRIA nd an unknown group of Muslim militants (from first hand sources, reportedly comprised of Muslim extremists from Chechnya, Tunisia, and possibly Syrian rebels) crossed from TURKEY into SYRIA after TURKISH troops on the Turkish side of the border moved aside and allowed them to cross. There is even a recording of high level Turkish officials authorizing/supporting this action.

The Kessab Armenians who did manage to flee had to leave largely with only the clothes on their backs to neighboring Latakia. Family members trying to call the homes of those left behind had Muslim extremists picking up the phones in the homes of their families screaming Allah chants, and saying that the town is now Muslim. Kessab has been inhabited by Armenians since the Cilician times nearly 1000 years ago, and it was a haven for survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

In the future, please think before you type and VERIFY YOUR OWN FACTS, idiot. You are just trying to advance your own name and doing harm to the Armenian people in the process.

Carl : 01.04.14

The town fell to Islamic radicals al-Nusra, (an al-Qaeda affiliate) as well as other groups associated with al-Qaeda- this is a fact. The Armenians fled and rightly so. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are the worst of humanity. FSA barely exists- vacuum has been filled by foreign jihadis (many from Turkey and Azerbaijan). The end game for the terrorists is Sharia law and Christians, Alawis, Kurds have no future in such a state. Armenians had inhabited that town since 95 BC and will probably never return. The whole "FSA" movement has been co-opted by jihadists.

Anahit Markosian : 01.04.14

How about fixing your MediaMap, for starts? It is a wrong map: it does not show Arzax being part of Armenia. reply

Hovhannes : 01.04.14

Well, probably you don't know, Artsakh is an independent state, but not part of Armenia.

Nick Dertavitian : 01.04.14

This has been my complain for the past week with the overwhelming wave of #savekessab campaign. I am off the FB grid for now since my news feed gets flooded by vile images of horrific acts which have been completely inaccurate, and to compare it to the genocide of the past with no evidence what so ever is completely irresponsible!

ghiath : 01.04.14

Thank you for this article. As a Syrian who has never doubted the Armenian Genocide I am really hurt to see how many famous Armenians unthinkingly are allowing the Assadist regime supporters to use the Armenian tragedy to spread lies and misinformation about the equally just Syrian struggle for freedom and dignity in the 44-year-old Assadist dictatorship.

Garin Kantarci : 01.04.14

I don't see how Al Qaida fits into this rebel narrative. This was a simple civil war before Saudi Arabia started funneling jihadists into Syria and the US started to train them and provide them weapons. They took over the rebel's cause and turned Syria into their latest jihadist front. Sorry, but there is no way in hell a jihadist winning and taking power is good for ANYONE other than a hardcore fundamentalist. The victory of the rebels will lead to the slaughter and displacement of all minorities in Syria. If you don't believe that, then just look at what happened to the minority population in Iraq after Saddam, a secular leader, was ousted. History is there to be our aid, its time we studied it.

Sylvia gaboudigian : 01.04.14

Listen you morons, maybe you are misinformed, but definitely I'm not, because my info of destruction in Kessab is first hand from my relatives who live or I should say lived, since the effing Turks are trying to destroy Kessab and massacre whoever is left from the 1915 genocide !

Vana Khanjian : 01.04.14

There's plenty of first hand information. Just ask the people who have family there!




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