Pics or it didn't happen – How does social media access affect what we know about killings in the Syrian conflict?

Short thesis

Social media platforms have taken on a central role in providing fellow citizens and the outside world with critical information in the chaos that surrounds violent conflict, in particular where traditional media sources are censored or unavailable. Access to services such as Twitter offer citizen journalists all over the world an easy and cheap way to share details on events that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.


As such, the ongoing Syrian conflict has been named the most socially mediated conflict in history: Thousands of Youtube videos record the images of killed and injured people in morgues, hospitals and market places.

But as the conflict enters its fifth year, it remains unknown how many people have been killed. Different sources quote different numbers, confirming what observers already know: that the process of uncovering the human cost of conflict is never straightforward, even in the presence of social media coverage.

This talk will:

  • discuss why violence in conflict sometimes gets reported, and sometimes it is hidden from view
  • present a way to estimate these unreported conflict fatalities using statistical multiple recapture estimation
  • investigate how changing access to social media affects what we know about killings in the Syrian conflict
  • discuss the broader implications of how social media shapes our understanding of conflict dynamics