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The application of agenda setting in Syria civil war

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The Syrian civil war has continued from the beginning of 2011 to the present, there is even no signal to tell the public when the war will finished. The war was initially caused by religious and social problems which happened for a long time in Syria. After that, the war broke out in the real world, then spread to various social media platforms in a short time. A part of Syrian citizens or social platform users who care about the war normally get news of the war on social media, such as the content and the video from different aspects. Users get the latest news on platforms, and forward or share their views online. But the way which the media releases news sometimes affects viewers’ opinions, such as the agenda setting function. Especially in the new media era, agenda setting has a faster and broader impact on the direction of public opinion. So at the same time as the Syrian civil war, users on the social media platform are also arguing about political and social issues due to the fact that the Syria war makes these issues serious. As the details of the Syrian war spread more and more, the social media users involved in the topic discussion became more and more heated, so the social media movement also affected the Syrian civil war to a certain extent, for example, photographs of children being heavily attacked by chemical weapons have caused social media users to accuse the Syrian government of being cruel, and government forces have been pressured by public opinion to some extent. I argue the war is influenced by the various military or non-military forces involved in or concerned about the Syrian war by the agenda setting of the media.

“Twins have been attacked by chemical weapons” . Photo Source: Infovisual

Since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in March 2011, under the local military organizations and international political powers in Syria, the situation in Syria has become chaotic, from demonstrations to military conflicts, from Syrian rebel group to the ISIS terrorist organization, finally, the Syrian war divided land to different parts, government forces, rebel forces, terrorist organizations and other international political powers, respectively occupying different parts of Syria . Even though the government forces recovered most of the land, unfortunately the war has not stopped yet.

From the perspective of the importance of public opinion in the war as the media is developing. Several wars in different countries since the Gulf War have just happened to be in the media revolution period. Various new media technologies have promoted mass communication forward rapidly. Agenda setting function on the media has also brought opportunities and challenge for spreading political opinions to public. In 1968, American scholars Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw formally proposed the theory of Agenda Setting based on the results of the investigation of the presidential election. The agenda setting is to attract the attention of the audience to an event by selecting the content of the report and the way of reporting, which in turn leads to the audience’s attention to the event. This is also the main way for news media to guide. However, according to Jessica T. Feezell, the way which the agenda setting impacts on audiences has changed in the age of social media. From the information selectivity in the old media era to the social sharing of information currently. So how does agenda setting theory work on social media? As increasing people access information on social media, social media will has effect on setting the agenda gradually. For instance, users will forward political relevant news on social media, which causes other users who are not interested in political news and even avoid seeing such news will also encounter these political news. Therefore, I believe that those who get more trust from public will be agreed and supported more by public on social media, these public opinions will no doubt maintain dominance of war for those force.

Although the previous section mentioned that social media has the ability to set the agenda, it does not mean that the news media can do nothing for the issues agenda, they can still focus on and amplify certain news facts, or report on certain emergencies and public issues in a balanced manner, which plays an important role on the shape of public opinion and value orientation. However, to set the agenda in the social media era needs journalists to observe and grasp the public’s social psychology which is sensitive sometimes, to be an opinion leader on social media. For example, in September 2015, photos of 3-year-old Syrian boy dead in Turkish beaches were seen by global audiences on the social media. Public have been outraged by this tragedy as to the Syrian war, followed by the growing public called for governments to settle refugees. No matter which party in the war took advantages of the photo to obtain public support, the public’s attention and voice pushed the issues to the top of the agenda on the social media, which did make governments to think about countermeasures to solve the refugee problem. The result of this issue is that some European countries, such as Germany, have changed their policies to deal with refugees who escape from the war. I strongly agree with that in the current social media environment, the agenda setting has changed the development of the event.

3-year-old Syrian boy dead in Turkish beach. Photo Source: Reuters

From the perspective of rebel forces using the agenda setting function in the Syrian war to analyze the war. In the process of the crisis, the social media platform has become another “battlefield” for both sides of the war. The Institute of Peace in America has released a report “Syria’s Socially Mediated Civil War” on the Syrian Civil War, Scholars who care about Syrian war have reported that Syrian rebel forces use social media platforms to spread real-time war conditions, such as on YouTube, claiming that Syrian citizens tend to overthrow the government. They also hashtag on Twitter, such as “#mar15” (the date of the crisis broke out on March 15th). Rebel forces have received a lot support from users on social media platforms. The most immediate result is that Rebel’s agenda for public opinion forced the Assad government to agree to destroy chemical weapons. Rebels and their supporters have posted hundreds and thousands of messages on social media from different regions, accusing the government was using chemical weapons. This case made the public aware of the irritating fact that the Syrian government forces launched a chemical attack. As a result of this, in August 2018, the United States, the United Kingdom and France jointly issued a statement warning the Syrian government forces stop to use chemical weapons in the war. The result was that rebels had won this stage and the Assad government did not use chemical weapons. In addition, ISIS terrorist organizations were also constantly release videos and contents on social media, in order to against the government forces and rebels at the same time, which caused panic in the international community. British media such as the BBC and Al Jazeera also used the social platform to watch and participate in this “media war” . The report “Syria’s Socially Mediated Civil War” found that since June 2011, Arabic has replaced English and become the most frequently used language on Twitter. This fully shows that thanks to the contributes of social media, the impact of the Syrian civil war has spread to the world, for the entire international community, the Syrian war has become an international hot topic.

From the political perspective to look at this war. Unlike the rebel and terrorist organizations mentioned above, the Syrian government forces can also use the agenda to get direct help from the political level. Syrian leader Assad publicly went to Russia for a state visit in October 2015. This is a successful agenda setting, which has a positive publicity role for the image of the government. At the same time, the relationship between Syrian government and Russian government have also been revealed through the media. That means they will stand on the same side. Vice versa, for the Russian side, this is also an agenda setting that shows they will have strong abilities to support Syria. In the political part, there is another country has to mention, it is China. Chinese government stated China is neutral. When UK, Frence and American declared air strikes, Chinese government did not support either the side of UK, France, and Russia or the side of Russia and Syria. But the strange thing is that the Chinese citizen are condemned and emotional about the air strike. Gao said, The reason is a photo of Syrian diplomat Jaafarii, who was sitting in the United Nations, on social media. It reminded Chinese public of the pain points at the Paris Peace Conference which happened in the year of 1919. At the Paris Peace Conference , Chinese government proposed to recover the ownership of Jiaozhou (A city in China) was rejected by the United Nations, the ownership of Jiaozhou was transferred from Germany to Japan even though the Chinese government refused to sign the agreement. Also, Japan was agreed to not need to compensate China for war losses, even if Japan is a defeated country. From the shooting angle of the photo, I generally assume the photo may came from the Syrian government. Thus the agenda setting here has effectively gained the support of the Chinese people in a short time. No matter how the war will going on, from a political point of view, the appearance of this photo has led the audience to believe that the Syrian government war has certain rationality.

Syrian diplomat Jaafarii was sitting in the United Nations to wait for the result. Photo source: Weibo

Today, the form of war and the form of media, both have changed a lot compare to the past. The media on the war and the war in the media platform have become more “mutually help” driven by high-tech. The media has played a role in assisting war, influencing war, and controlling war by information. The two sides of the war will get easier to make confrontation and competition in the information field. Not only for grasping the initiative when information experience the process of production, transmission and processing, also for destroying the enemy’s communication. Thus agenda setting on the social media is necessary in the war. The media is under the political and military rights, it can disseminated public information which will be carefully selected by the media to have an impact on the war, but it cannot stop the war.

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Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !