Extreme Speech| An Archetypal Digital Witness: The Child Figure and the Media Conflict Over Syria

Omar Al-Ghazzi


This article examines how children have been mediated as witnesses of the Syria conflict. I explore the symbolic demands placed on the figure of the child witness in a converging news media and social media environment, as if it can serve as the quintessentially authentic image and truthful voice able to speak beyond the complexities of geopolitics, war, and ideology, and regardless of the question of journalistic presence. I focus on two cases that unfolded in 2016 during the Russo–Syrian military campaign in East Aleppo: the image of three-year-old Omran Daqneesh, known as “ambulance boy,” and the Twitter account of seven-year-old Bana Al-Abed. I argue that the mediation of witness accounts was characterized by two tendencies: an assumption of the possibility of unmediated witnessing via digital technologies, and a forceful politicization of witness testimonies that empties out their signification as fast as they circulate on social media and news media. This reflects an ecology of competing witnessing that construed children as archetypal witness figures simultaneously prone to virality and co-optation.


children, witnessing, Syria, user-generated content, news media

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