Despotism That Can’t Laugh At Itself

While writing that previous post on the refugee camp in Jordan for Syrian exiles, the thought suddenly occurred to me: “What ever happened to @Syrianpresident? I haven’t heard from that guy for a while!”

Now, by no means do I mean the real Syrian president, that former opthamologist turned child-torturer, inveterate public liar and chemical-weapons aficionado, Bashar Al-Assad – I wouldn’t be interested in communications coming from his office, on Twitter or otherwise. Rather, where was the parody account under that Twitter-handle that for quite a while after the Syrian rebellion broke out (caused, you’ll remember, by the police simply shooting down marching demonstrators) brilliantly skewered the murderous pretentions and absuridites of the ruling Syrian elite? Al-Assad’s current ludicrous scheme to run for re-election while otherwise busy with an ongoing project of having his own citizens butchered, up to 4 million of whom have therefore left the country, would alone provide endless material to work with.

It’s easy enough to enter into your browser Result: Account suspended.

I wish I could give you some screen-shots here of the excellent observations and wise-cracks whoever was behind that parody site produced, but I didn’t think to do that at the time. And now that is quite impossible, because once you get “Account suspended,” that’s it – down it goes down George Orwell’s classic memory-hole. The result of a decision from a private company, let it be noted – an arbitrary decision.

Then again, I thought, I shouldn’t have expected @Syrianpresident to have survived long. (In other words – I should have been recording screen shots!) For the conflict in Syria got really nasty from an early point, and that quickly extended to cyberspace. That Twitter account would not have had long to survive once it had attracted the attention of the band of hackers the Syrian regime has somehow managed to recruit, the Syrian Electronic Army.

However, a little Googling* revealed that the Syrian Electronic Army had not even had to get involved. Instead, according to the Guardian, all that it took to get @Syrianpresident wiped from the memory-banks was a petition to Twitter from a senior aide to Al-Assad’s wife, Asma. (Can we call it, then, an “asmatic petition”?)

Half of the accounts using the [Syrian] first lady’s name and all but one of those using the president’s name were closed down. The author of one account, @Syrianpresident, described it as a “parody account” and said it had attracted 2,500 followers.

That’s not so many followers, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the quality of the material, not the followership (something we certainly take to heart here at €S)! Then at the end of this short piece:

Twitter told the Assad office: “We do suspend accounts that are clear attempts at impersonation,” but added: “Twitter users are allowed to create parody, commentary and fan accounts.”

I see. Somehow @Syrianpresident fell on the wrong side of that dividing-line between “impersonation” and “parody.” How can you do the one without the other? As I said, an arbitrary decision from a private company, whose behavior as, in effect, public censor is likely only to get worse because it has become a publicly-listed private company.

So how long do we have left to enjoy, for example, @KimJongNumberUn? Sample:

Do I need to try out my scripting skills to code some routine to regularly screen-shot this account’s tweets as they are issued, on behalf of posterity? But I guess there has to be a war before the on-line record is similarly changed by Twitter so that nothing is available from this account anymore, as if it never existed, is that right?

* I write “Googling” because that is the accepted term, but these days I largely manage to avoid using Google in favor of DuckDuckGo – “the search engine that doesn’t track you.” (So was I actually “DuckDuck-ing”? “Ducking the issue”?) I do recommend it – the results are just as good, you strike a small blow against Internet surveillance, and you also don’t have to put up with that auto-fill trying to guess what you are typing in the search-box, something I always found rather annoying.

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