Adonis Diaries

Archive for February 7th, 2014

Stats of 2013: Annual Adonis49 blog in review

WordPress. com failed to post its Helper-Monkeys Stats of 2013. Why?

1. Is it because the number of bloggers increased “exponentially” and the staff has more important responsibilities to tend to?

2. The algorithm of the Helper-Monkeys Stats was not designed to handle so many bloggers?

3. No one in the staff could come up with a new imaginative design for displaying the Stats?

4. Has it occurred to the staff that it is not necessary to forward Helper-Monkeys Stats to every bloggers? Best to encourage the new comers in the block and congratulate those who have been consistent, reliable and versatile bloggers through the years?

In any case, I decided to compare the achievement of this year with the previous year.

If you care to peruse the annual report of 2012 in its entirety, read

In 2012, this blog was viewed 91,000 times with an accumulated number of hits of 190,000 since Sept. 16, 2008.  This year registered a total of 325,000, or an average increase of 30 hits per day.

In 2012, there were 715 new posts (50 more than in 2011),  for a total of a 3,250 posts. This year witnessed a total of 4050 posts, a slight increase from 2012.

Actually, I could increase tremendously the number of posts, but I would rather not overwhelm my readers with more than 2 posts a day, or 3 at most.

I have over 20 pages of draft titles in the pipeline and I doubt that it will ever diminish at this pace.

This year I decided to update the articles of 2008 and 2009 in order to add relevant tags and allocate them in the proper categories that had increased to 45 since then.

For example, the category “Poetry” contains translated poems and subjects relevant to poetry. “Poems Mine” is reserved to my poems.

My plan is to sort out the Short Stories, those translated and mine

(Mind you that my blog is about words and not pictures, but I do re-post articles with pictures)

I translate what I read in French and Arabic into English, and I appreciate links to well-developed articles that I comment on, edit, update and add to them.

The USA has still the lion share of about 30% of readers, followed by the English-speaking countries such as Canada, England, India…

Lebanon is picking up and is among the first 5 countries.

So far, the blog is read my almost every recognized State, except a few such as China: I should double check for this year.

The dedicated subscribers increased 10 folds this year.

“Did not have choice or free will”? Phillip Seymour Hoffman 

What these people have in common with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (deceased-drug addiction)?

Actor Cory Monteith (deceased-drug addiction), singer Amy Winehouse (deceased-alcoholism), author David Foster Wallace (deceased-depression), actor Jon Hamm (depression), TV personality Nicole Richie (anorexia), actress Karla Alvarez (deceased-anorexia/bulimia), actress Amanda Byne (bi-polar disorder), actor Howie Mandel (ocd) , reality TV star Vinnie Guadagnino (anxiety disorder),  actress Brooke Shields (postpartum depression)?

In the wake of the tragic loss of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a great artist, partner, father, brother, and son, I offer the following facts about the neurological disease of addiction.

The overwhelming majority of adults in the western world have passed through experimental stages in their lives where they have dabbled with some kind of brain altering addictive substance, i.e., cigarettes, alcohol, prescription pain killers, ADHD medication, anti-anxiety medication, marijuana (save the ‘it’s not addictive” arguments for later, please).

And the overwhelming majority of these adults will emerge from their experiments unscathed, believing that their free will and good choices are what saved them from becoming addicted.

The problem with this thinking is that it is factually incorrect, and all wrong.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman 1967-2014

debbie bayer blog

debbie bayer blog (selected as one of the top post today Feb. 3, 2014)

Phillip Seymour Hoffman did not have choice or free will and neither do you.

What saved the adults from becoming addicted is that their brains did not respond in the same way that an addict’s brain does. They were born with a resistance to addiction. Their free will and good choices had nothing to do with it.

It is time for all of us who got through unscathed to stop patting ourselves on the back for our genetic good luck, and it is time to stop judging those who were not born with the same good genes as defective.

About Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a relapsing drug addict, you may have had the thoughts, “He knew better.” or “Shame on him for throwing his life away.”

Let’s look at these ideas through the lens of how the brain actually works.

Phillip Seymour  “knew better.

He ‘knew better’ in the frontal lobes of his brain, where we all execute our better judgment and can make calculations of our behaviors and circumstances based on risk and reward.

Here’s the problem.

The activity of our frontal lobes can be shut down by the other parts of our brain when there is significant stress in our body. This comes from what is called the “fight, flight, freeze, or faint” mechanism.

This mechanism in the brain is hard-wired into each of us for survival purposes. It is the part of the brain that puts someone into shock when they have been injured and/or traumatized. It is also the part of the brain that can allow a person to lift a car by themselves if their loved one or someone they care about is in danger.

The brain does not analyze the type of stress it is experiencing, that is, this ‘fight or flight mechanism’ is binary.

The brain functions on a “yes” or “no” basis (a binary reaction as in computer).  ”Yes,” there is enough stress to activate the mechanism or “no,” there is not enough stress to activate the mechanism. Human beings have no control over when this mechanism is activated.

This is how PTSD works.

Seemingly innocuous sights, sounds, smells or sensations trigger this brain mechanism even when there is no actual threat to the person. The stress in the body is not even consciously recognizable to the person with PTSD.

The brain reacts to the trigger and the person is put into the experience of being threatened without choice or control because the frontal lobes cannot get their signals through. When this mechanism is activated, free will and choice become impossible. This is true for each and every human being on the planet, whether we like it or not.

The brain of an addict, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this case, experiences withdrawal symptoms as stress. And since it operates on a binary system, it does not sort out “good” stress (I’m so sick because I’m kicking heroin-good for me!) from “bad” stress (I’m so sick because I’m kicking heroin I’d better call a doctor).

The brain only knows if the stress is present or not and how much stress is present.

When withdrawal symptoms, i.e., physical distress, anxiety caused by emotional stress, etc. reach a certain point in the brain, the brain automatically cuts off the access to the frontal lobes (in a manner of speaking) and begins to direct the body rebalance the stress, to find equilibrium, so that the brain can return to “normal” functioning.

“Normal” functioning to the brain of an addict is defined as having the addictive substance in the body. So while any relapsing addict “knows better,” the addict literally cannot access the part of his brain where his/her better judgment is stored.

The addict loses his choice and free will and is at the mercy of his brain which is in extreme stress and working to regain it’s equilibrium, at any cost, i.e., get more of the addictive substance.

The idea of losing choice, of relinquishing free will, is unthinkable to most of us, especially those of us fortunate enough to live in the U.S. where we have so many choices in so many areas of our lives.

Also, human consciousness defends heavily against the possibility of ‘no choice’ which is paradoxical considering we each carry a brain mechanism that removes choice, but I digress.

Suffice it to say that according to our brain physiology, choice and no choice are equally important to the survival of the species. The problem is that we humans are only conscious of the importance of choice (and the free will to make those choices).

Over the centuries, mankind has had tremendous difficulty acknowledging and treating brain disorders of all kinds.  And we haven’t made much progress in our supposed “enlightened” age of civil rights either.

Consider this, it was less than 50 years ago that 90+% of those born with Down’s syndrome were institutionalized for life.

Also, in spite of (or maybe because of?) a tremendous increase in the diagnoses of brain disorders in the last 40 years, all but a small percentage of treatment centers and publicly funded programs for treatment have been permanently shut down.

What we have on our hands in the U.S. is a mental health, i.e., brain health, crisis.

This is abundantly clear to us every time someone with a serious brain disorder buys an assault rifle.

Actually, those instances are but the tip of a gigantic iceberg. And even though we have had great breakthroughs in neuroscience, we are woefully lagging behind in treating people who suffer and offering support to their families.

How did this happen?

There are more than a few ways to answer that question.

One of the important answers is that we are naturally defensive against the idea that brain disorders which disconnect us from our free will exist. It’s too frightening an idea to consider, so we come up with stories.

A century or more ago our stories revolved around the idea that the person suffering was possessed by demons, and that these demons ran in the family. Perhaps the person’s mother was possessed? May she was a witch? Someone in that family must have sinned and now they are being punished, etc.

It was stories like these that ran so strongly through our cultures that families up until, well now, actually hid loved ones away in mental institutions and even disavowed knowledge or connection to them in order to avoid the stigma that would be placed on the healthy family members also.

We have made some progress, but as Mr. Hoffman’s death painfully points out, not nearly enough.

We seem to have compassion and some amount of treatment and support available for those who have schizophrenia, psychosis, delusional disorder, autism, and Downs syndrome.  (It’s not nearly enough treatment and support and the families and loved ones of those with these disorders suffer an enormous amount financially, emotionally, and physically with the burden of lifetime care of those who live with these challenges.)

Outside of these few of the many neurological disorders that exist we lose all compassion and concern for people and their families who are suffering, and we tell a modern day version of the demon possession story about them.

We continue to isolate and reject people suffering from a physiological disorder of the brain and force their families and loved ones to bear the lifetime burden of their care in shame and silence, in 2014, in the wealthiest nation the planet has ever known.

Our stories about these people who look so normal, so successful, on the outside but whose lives come crumbling down upon them or are cut ridiculously short no longer revolve around possession by evil spirits but by a defect in their character (selfish, lazy, greedy, arrogant, gluttonous, apathetic, hedonistic, etc.), a defect in their temperament (evil, violent, narcissistic, vain, eccentric, etc.) or a defect in their judgement or intelligence (immature, moron, idiot, being an a**hole).

In the absence of knowledge about how the brain functions these stories created theories about the causes of these behaviors (moral corruption, low character) and consequences which mirrored our cultural value system (it’s their own fault, they got what they deserved).

Out of our stories came ideas on how to avoid these behaviors (work hard, believe in God, be kind to others), consequences of these behaviors (why goes around comes around, God helps those who help themselves) and systems of support to uphold the implementation of these ideas (church, 12 step, therapy).

Sometimes the theories, ideas for correction and the support systems even work, but sadly, not most of the time.

All of the above stories/theories are normal individual and cultural adaptations to the unexplainable. This is how we humans learn and grow.

Gratefully, these days few if any people think a person with a phobia has had a spell cast upon him by a witch and now needs an exorcism while the family and neighbors have to find and lynch the witch.

Neither is a person with an addiction suffering from poor character, temperament, or judgment from which he can be cured with hard work, belief in God, attendance at church, 12 step and therapy. (Hang in there, recovered and recovering 12 steppers. I’m on your side. See ** below.)

What we fail to see is

a) how self-serving these old stories are, and

b) how ineffective our current treatment modalities are (see #a).

Our theories about addiction don’t really exist to explain the illogical behavior of someone who is suffering, but mostly to separate ourselves from that behavior with the assurance that what has happened to that “loser” won’t happen to us.

And when the need to distance ourselves from that “loser” is satisfied we don’t bother to fact check our theories.

Nor to we bother to notice if the treatment schemas we’ve created even work (they don’t).  Rather good proof that our theories are self-serving, don’t you think?

We also fail to notice the fear and sadness that comes up for us when we hear of the tragedies that befall those with high-functioning neurological disorders, especially now.

It’s 2014 and tragedies like the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman have been happening steadily for 40+ years, with no end and no answer in sight. In light of this kind of repetitive hopelessness we are left with little choice but to blame the victims in order to soothe ourselves.

And it is difficult, if not impossible to create solutions in the presence of hopelessness.

The mental health/brain disorder crisis we are facing right now, this decades-long epidemic, is with the so-called high-functioning neurological disorders, i.e., depression, anxiety, bi-polar, ocd, anorexia, bulimia, and addiction (I have left out more than a few of the disorders, but these are the most familiar of the lot).

However, neuroscience is offering us the best reason to hope for good treatment outcomes in decades. The more we learn about how the brain works (like when the fight/flight mechanism is activated) and how it works when it is “broken” (fight/flight mechanism too easily triggered in addicts) the easier it will be for people who have these brain glitches to be identified and treated without shame and blame.

The first, most effective way to face our cultural crises of too many people with brain disorders being undiagnosed and untreated is to educate ourselves about these disorders and learn to spot the people who are suffering so that we can help them understand what is wrong with them and help them to agree to receive treatment.

We have to change our cultural view of addiction and the like before we can create more effective treatments for it and the other high-functioning neural disorders.

The change has to come from those of us who either do not have the disorders or have been successfully treated for the disorders because those with the disorders are not able to help themselves.

I like to say it this way, the last person to know that his brain is broken is the person with the broken brain.

This is just the way human consciousness works.

The only organ in the body that seems to make self-diagnosis impossible is the brain. I mean there is no mistaking a kidney stone trying to pass. When someone is in that kind of pain they don’t blame it on their lack of character. But the brain is expert at being able to reframe and explain away its own glitches.

Whatever isn’t working in a person’s brain is that person’s “normal.”  Over time people with high-functioning neurological disorders develop plausible explanations for their symptoms and adapt to them as best as they can.

And when life’s problems that are obviously (to those around them) connected to their neurological disorders become apparent on the outside of their lives (car accidents, drained bank accounts, lost jobs, broken marriages, etc.) they usually blame their own character defects or someone or something else.

Therefore, the person with the problem is the least likely to be able to get themselves the help they need.

Here is where the education begins, when otherwise high functioning people think and act in ways that defy facts and logic and threaten their well-being and the well-being of their loved ones, then we need to understand that they have a brain disorder, not a moral or character disorder; and they need medical treatment, not shaming, blaming, therapy or a sentence to a 12 step program.

This means that alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, suicide attempts, phobias, adhd, anxiety and depression, et al are all disorders of the brain and as such need the treatment of a medical doctor first.

(Read that again. It’s a truth, not a theory. But since the truth is not widely known it will seem counter intuitive. You will want to say, “Yeah, but…..”  Read it again. Alcoholism is a brain disorder. Drug addiction is a brain disorder. Let it sink in.)

Here’s why this is true–otherwise high functioning people could not be high functioning without good judgment, good enough character, and at least average intelligence.  If they can hold down a job, go about the activities of daily living, have friendships and loved ones, and display empathy towards others before and during their lapses, melt downs, relapses, et al.,  then their frontal lobes are fully functioning.

The only explanation, for their behaviors then, is that their frontal lobes (where their high-functioning skills are located) have been hijacked by a different part of their brain.  When someone’s brain is highjacking their frontal lobes, they need medical treatment.

Blessedly, neuroscience is catching up with us and giving us facts about how our brains actually work.  So it is time NOW to drop those stories we have made up and begin to apply the facts of neuroscience as we understand them to the untimely deaths of addicts of all kinds and to the public meltdowns of otherwise functioning adults.

And it is way past time that we spread the word about what is really going on with these people who struggle mightily and their families who bear the burden of loving them and having to care for them.

Remember, these people don’t know that their brains are broken.  They are high-functioning and so they blame themselves. And they come to hate themselves for their problems more than you can imagine.  They live in a dark and self-loathing world where they come to believe that they don’t deserve any help which is why they don’t surrender themselves for treatment. They need the help of their friends and families and the world around them in order to get around the obstacles of their broken brains to get help.

When our entire culture understands as common sense that addiction is an individual neurological disorder that requires immediate medical attention then a person like Phillip Seymour Hoffman has a chance to understand that he has “one of those brains” that will shut down his frontal lobes and take away his ability to exercise good judgement and control of his behaviors.  And until he knows this fact about his brain in same the way that he knows a bone sticking out of his leg means he needs to go to the ER, then him and those like him will not be able to ask for help.

And a guy like Phillip Seymour Hoffman isn’t going to know these things until we all know them.  And that time is NOW.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman died from having a combination of sensitivities in his neural wiring that caused his brain to override his better judgement, take away his free will and caused him to take the actions that ultimately killed him.

It appears that these sensitivities were unknowingly activated by a prescription of pain killers that were necessary at the time to treat a different medical condition.  Because of his previous 23 years of being clean and sober he was presumed  safe to take the pain medication. And it looks like what he and maybe even his doctors didn’t know about how his brain worked kept him from staying in treatment long enough to allow his brain to rewire itself around those sensitivities and render him clean and sober again.

For this, like all addicts in this situation, he deserves our kindness and compassion.

If this post has helped you to understand addiction please do share it.  My passion is to help educate us all so that more people with neurological disorders will get the treatment they need.

Debbie Bayer, MA, MFTI

Note to my 12-step friends:  There are two caveats to the success of 12-step work
1) It works when you work it, and
2) You have to be honest, and some people are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.
There is no doubt that over the last 70+ years the 12-step community has the highest success rate among alcoholics of any other treatment modality. This community is also incredibly successful in the support of sobriety among drug addicts of all kinds.
The problem lies in the millions of people who cannot meet the two criteria for success in a 12-step program due to other types of brain disorders.  Their suffering demands that health professionals continue to seek out effective treatment strategies for them.
I am certain that you have compassion for their plight and support these more unfortunate folks in their recovery.

The Syrian Opposition Is Disappearing From Facebook

Mind you that Syrian Opposition are formed of native Syrians who demonstrated peacefully for 6 months, expatriate Syrians who never returned to Syria, and the armed extremist Islamic factions that are funded and supported by the obscurantist Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait… and mercenaries converging from 33 countries, many of them from Europe.
Denying the Syrians inside Syria of internet social platforms is a political move to weaken the political dialogue and giving the upper-hand to the extremist armed factions.
Ammar Hamidou fled the country last year and now works in New York as a computer developer. He was one of the first to take to the streets in his hometown of Kafranbel, in the northwest, in early 2011.
The regime aircraft pummeled his town and al-Qaeda-linked fighters periodically overran Kafranbel to kidnap civil-society activists like himself, and the 29-year-old finagled a visa to the U.S. and escaped.
 posted this FEB. 4, 2014,

Hunched over a coffee at a Midtown Manhattan Starbucks, Ammar Hamidou describes how Syria’s revolution spiraled out of control before his eyes.

Free Syrian Army soldiers watch a video on their laptop. (Hamid Khatib/Reuters)

His family and girlfriend remain in Syria, but he says there is no role for him there anymore.

The revolution started with the peaceful activists, we had no intention to hold a gun and fight anybody. What we wanted was freedom—how did we get here?” he asks. “Activists are vanishing, my revolution is being stolen, and those martyrs, this blood, all for nothing. It’s gonna be worthless, in vain.

Nowadays, his activism takes place on his computer, as it did before the revolution broke out.

Like many towns in Syria, Kafranbel has a Local Coordination Committee (LCC) and media center page on Facebook, both of which are used to spread news of the revolution, document the dead, and distribute safety information to residents.

In a country where foreign and independent Syrian journalists are barred and rare, and the regime’s expansive network of citizen-spies makes public discussion of the revolution dangerous to this day, Facebook was one of the first refuges for Syria’s dissidents—and now it has become one of their last.

The social network’s recent decisions to shut down dozens of opposition pages, including the Kafranbel Media Center that Hamidou administered in exile, have dealt a significant blow to peaceful activists who have grown reliant on Facebook for communication and uncensored—if bloody and graphic—reporting on the war’s atrocities.

It’s only the latest chapter in Syria’s well-documented Facebook wars, but it threatens to be the final one for the non-violent voices who sparked the revolution to upend 40 years of oppressive Assad family rule.

The SecDev Foundation, a Canadian NGO that runs several digital-security initiatives in Syria— distributing censorship-circumvention tools like VPNs and proxies, and warning about pro-regime hacking schemeshas compiled a list of dozens of pages belonging to opposition citizen-journalism outfits or non-aligned NGOs that have reportedly been shuttered since last fall for posting what Facebook deemed to be graphic imagery or calls to violence.

These pages often resurface under different URLs with a fraction of the followers they had before, and sometimes continue operating as they had previously.

Screenshots taken by SecDev or sent to the group by page administrators capture what appear to be some baffling decisions by Facebook. Take the case of the Daraa al-Mahata LCC. Its page, which documents the violence in Syria’s southernmost city of Daraa, had over 42,000 “likes” when it was removed in October for posting a picture of a man allegedly killed by the Syrian Army.

In the picture, Fadi Badr al-Miqdad sits comfortably—very much alive—in a beige armchair. A young child, also alive, is perched on his lap. The Arabic-language caption reads: “He was killed by shabiha gangs in [the town of] Busra al-Sham.”

Shabiha, loosely translated as “thugs,” is a pejorative term used by both sides in the conflict to describe their enemies—and the only potentially offensive word in the post.

The page’s administrators, who unsuccessfully appealed to have the page restored, do not understand. Why this picture? And, after nearly 3 years of posting images of dead bodies (among other things), why now?

The image that allegedly prompted Facebook to shut down the Daraa al-Mahata LCC page. (Screenshot/SecDev)

Activists point to Facebook’s open-ended community standards and reporting system in explaining these closures.

Any user who believes a post or photograph violates the social network’s standards may lodge the complaint with the company’s user-operations team, whose Arabic-language unit, operating out of Dublin, can then choose to remove the content, warn the page’s administrators, or even close the page, sometimes without notice.

Activists believe groups supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are gaming the system and reporting on their rivals. Facebook does not disclose information about who reported whom, making it impossible to confirm these theories.

The pro-Assad Syrian Electronic Army (SEA)—best known for its hacks of major news sites, including an infamous White House bomb hoax that sank the Dow 140 points—has publicly gloated about this tactic.

“We continue our reporting attacks,” read a typical post from December 9 on the SEA’s Facebook page. “Our next target is the Local Coordination Committee of Barzeh [a neighborhood in Damascus], the page that is a partner in shedding Syrian blood and provoking sectarian division.” It then provided two links to photos on the Barzeh page that could get the page taken down. Soon afterwards, the SEA removed its post as if it had never existed.

Though SEA campaigns aren’t always successful—Facebook says the “quality” of reports will always trump the “quantity”—activists believe the pro-Assad hackers have claimed some high-profile scalps in recent months.

Among them is the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights, an NGO that documents casualties and rights abuses in the civil war. The SNHR has been regularly sharing graphic images—from blood-spattered streets to mutilated bodies—since 2011, but in October, Facebook reportedly pulled the plug on its page.

With the UN announcing in January that it will no longer keep track of Syria’s rising death count, citing an inability to verify information inside Syria, the world will depend on NGOs like SNHR for updates. Without an operating Facebook page, its reach will be thwarted.

LCC and media-center pages are ripe for the picking because they have long prided themselves on depicting the war in all its gory detail. Graphic content, like that posted by SNHR, would indeed upset many of Facebook’s more than 1 billion users, all of whom can access public groups. But the owners of these pages insist their content is not meant to offend.

“This is all … part of telling people what is happening in Syria,” said Bassam al-Ahmad, the Istanbul-based spokesman for the Violations Documentation Center. His organization and others that track human-rights violations are preparing files so that war criminals can be brought to justice in a theoretical post-Assad Syria.

When a page is shut down, those files are gone. And while al-Ahmed acknowledged the group’s content is often “difficult,” so is Syria’s war.

“I blame Facebook 100 percent for the closures,” said Dlshad Othman, a Syrian digital-security expert and cyber-activist, in a phone interview from his home in Washington, D.C. “They opened the door from the beginning, letting all the people use Facebook above all other networks and then they shut down their pages. Facebook was a trap for us.”

Richard Allan, Facebook’s director of public policy for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, acknowledged Facebook’s community-policed reporting apparatus isn’t perfect and that human error can creep into decisions on page violations. He also noted that his team is dealing with an unprecedented conflict.

“With Syria, there are situations where it’s very hard for us to get the rules just right,” Allan said.

“The funny thing,” Othman mused, “is that Facebook used to be proud that it was part of the Arab Spring.”

In a letter to potential investors when Facebook filed its IPO last February, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted his social network’s role in undermining tyrannical governments like Syria’s:

“By giving people the power to share, we are starting to see people make their voices heard on a different scale from what has historically been possible. These voices will increase in number and volume. They cannot be ignored.”

Unless, of course, they are deleted by Facebook itself. While Allan declined to comment on individual cases, the company said nothing has changed in its policy with regard to the Syrian conflict. Allan instead suggested that years of content breach may have finally caught up to pages that have been around since early 2011. In other words, it was only a matter of time.

“There comes a point at which a page has breached the rules so many times that the only choice we have left is to close it,” said Allan in a phone interview from London. “We don’t like to take that sanction, it’s not our first option … but if a page repeatedly breaches then it’s going to hit that threshold.

He added, however, that Facebook’s decisions are “based on the quality of the content, not the quantity of reporting. One report about bad content, it will come down. A thousand reports about good content, it won’t come down.

This isn’t a satisfying answer for activists like Razan Zaitouneh, one of the founders of the LCC system as well as the Violations Documentation Center.

In early December, according to SecDev, the famed human-rights lawyer drafted a letter to Facebook imploring policy officials to consider that human-rights groups like her own have nowhere else to go. An exception should be made for those merely seeking to document conflict, she said.

“Facebook pages are the only outlet that allows Syrians and media activists to convey the events and atrocities in Syria to the world,” she wrote in the letter, which was shared by SecDev. “We strongly appeal to you not to make it easier for the Syrian regime to terminate calls for freedom and dignity.”

Zaitouneh never got a response to her letter.

On December 9,  five men stormed her organization’s office in the Damascus suburb of Douma and kidnapped her, along with her husband and two colleagues, VDC spokesman al-Ahmad said. Their whereabouts and kidnappers are unknown, but the abduction is widely believed to be the work of an Islamist rebel group, the Army of Islam, which is active in an area that was “liberated” from Assad’s grips months ago.

Al-Ahmad said Zaitouneh had received threatening letters from an Islamist group shortly before the kidnapping, but he refused to name the group without proper evidence.

Zaitouneh’s kidnapping—and specifically the fact that it appears to have been perpetrated by ‘anti-Assad’ rebel fighters, underlines the bleak reality facing Syria’s non-violent holdouts, who bravely took to the streets in protest three years and 130,000 lives ago.

With Assad showing no signs of wavering and al-Qaeda-linked extremists streaming across Syria’s porous borders, the peaceful protesters say they no longer recognize the uprising they used to lead.

“It’s no secret that the role of activists in Syria is dwindling,” said Laila Safadi, the editor of the online opposition news magazine Tala’na al-Hurriya (“Take Us to Freedom”) from her home in the Golan Heights in Syria. That means Facebook is more important than ever, Safadi said.

Safadi feels that Facebook does not provide enough warning to page administrators to clean up their content before shutting down pages. The Internet in Syria is slow and unreliable, and pages that have been operating for years have amassed huge quantities of data that are not easy to comb through in time to respond to concerns.

Plus, administrators allege that Facebook does not always follow through on its pledge to warn them before shutting down their pages.

The activists behind the LCC page in Tartous, for instance, say that they didn’t receive warning before their page was deleted overnight. Others, like Hamidou, say they’ve experienced the same issue.

The analysts at SecDev sympathize with Allan and his policy team. “It’s terra incognita,” said Joshua Gillmore, who works on Syria. “You have, for the first time, a conflict entirely documented over social media. Facebook is basically policing a large country and trying to do so without access to what’s really happening. Even for us, we deal with the conflict on an ongoing basis, there are a lot of actors who are popping up, changing, and it can be difficult to make a judgment call on what’s going on.”

Facebook’s community standards are designed to deter cyber-bullying and hate speech. But in a civil war where such “bullying” impacts the fight on the ground and the future of a country, the social network is entering uncharted territory.

“You have community standards which are supposed to be applied across the board, but they were created in a situation that is not at all what is unfolding in Syria now, where Facebook has become a primary information resource within the war,” added Deirdre Collings, SecDev’s executive director. “There are all sorts of different dynamic abuses that Facebook couldn’t possibly have anticipated when they were developing the standards.”

Yet Allan acknowledged that one recent development has prompted greater vigilance on Facebook’s part: the emergence and strengthening of al-Qaeda-linked rebel factions.

Though the activist pages in question—along with many Syrian rebels—want nothing to do with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the very presence of extremist fighters alongside moderate rebel factions in the struggle to unseat Assad has been a public-relations disaster for the opposition.

“It does mean it is more likely that there may be more support for designated terror organizations, al-Qaeda being the classic example,” on Facebook, said Allan. “Symbols, images that are clearly encouraging support for that organization will be a breach. We’re always on the lookout for those kinds of things when they’re reported to us.

“Objective reporting” on the Syrian conflict on an LCC page, Allan explained, is acceptable. “At the other end of the spectrum, an exultation to violence associated with a known terrorist organization would not be. In Syria’s case, there’s a lot of stuff in between.”

But that gray area isn’t spelled out in Facebook’s community standards. All this may seem like minutiae to the uninitiated, but to Syrians it is very much a revolutionary matter.

“As the Syrian people say, the sound is just of guns and killing, there is no space for peaceful voices in Syria now,” said al-Ahmad. Already drowned out by bullets and bombs, non-violent dissidents like al-Ahmad and Hamidou—even from their refuges in Istanbul and Manhattan—are in danger of extinction.




February 2014

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