Community voices: Ahmad Primo combats false news and disinformation coming out of Syria
We’re six weeks away from RightsCon, and as we put the final touches on our community’s most ambitious program yet, we are highlighting the vital work of our community members around the world in defending and extending human rights in the digital age.
Ahmad Primo is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Verify-Sy, a platform to refute inaccurate and fabricated news coming out of his home country, Syria. While the organization officially started in 2016, its mission to dispute disinformation and disseminate accurate coverage of the Syrian civil war grew from Ahmad’s experiences years before that.
Shortly after the 2011 uprising began, Ahmad began working with a website to report on human rights violations against protesters by the Assad regime. It didn’t take long for the government to arrest Ahmad and his colleagues, shut down the website, and delete the archives. In the years following, Ahmad worked under a pseudonym to provide accurate and reliable coverage of the political turmoil within his country. Despite his efforts to operate anonymously while both reporting and combating disinformation campaigns, he was targeted and arrested two more times.
Through this courageous work — while witnessing the emergence of numerous non-official Syrian media institutions, many of which were sharing large amounts of news on a daily basis — Ahmad founded Verify-Sy. According to Ahmad, “In the absence of censorship, there has been an unintended or deliberate confusion on public opinion regarding what is happening in Syria, sometimes through the dissemination of false news.” A very real consequence of this false news movement has been the loss of credibility for those still attempting to cover the Syrian war accurately, from the ground.
The Verify-Sy team believes Syrians around the world maintain the right to access accurate and reliable information about their country. They rely on a network of partners and volunteers to spot misleading or false news and verify authentic content coming out of the country. To date, they’ve exposed 800 publications as fake or misleading, from all sides — Pro-Assad and opposition — as well as Arabic, international, and social media sources. To increase the accessibility of the information the group verifies, they have also developed mobile applications.
Verify-Sy’s work is crucial at a time when governments, businesses, and civil society have a growing focus on addressing the detrimental impact of disinformation campaigns. For Ahmad, as a speaker in the Media, (Dis)-Information, and “Fake News” track, RightsCon is an important opportunity to learn from the community, deepen the platform’s network, and extend the impact of Verify-Sy for both the Syrian and global communities.
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Activists, human rights defenders, technologists, policy makers, researchers, business leaders, and other change makers will all gather at RightsCon Toronto, May 16-18, 2018, to tackle the most pressing issues for human rights in the digital age. Join us and help shape a better world.