If your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine then it’s probably filled with people you haven’t seen in 10 years debating religion, politics, sports, the economy, or police reform, and oversharing pictures from their family’s recent trip to see the World’s Largest Ketchup Bottle (it’s in Collinsville, Illinois in case you’re wondering and they actually refer to it as ‘Catsup’ but I grew up in Jersey so I can’t).
In any case, all matter of online material be it terribly mundane or completely outrageous flows freely for your consumption. But what if it didn’t? What if you lived in a place where information was restricted, not by the government but by a group of knife and machine gun toting thugs who have relied on a campaign of violent intimidation to silence opposition to their brand of religious extremism?
ISIS’ ability to use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to recruit new members and inspire attacks from afar would impress Madison Ave’s saltiest execs, but the group has also demonstrated an ability to punish dissent that would make Stalin jealous. The latter, and the efforts by a group of Syrian bloggers to overcome it, are the focus of a compelling video series produced by the BBC.
‘Islamic State’s’ most wanted – Part 1: The takeover
“Death started to be a normal thing for us”
Part one of the series introduces us to a group of Syrian teens who were living in Raqqa during the Arab Spring demonstrations of 2011. It was during this unrest that Aziz, Hussam, Sarmad, and Hamoud discovered their passion for journalism, and used it to give the world an unfiltered look at the reality of life in Syria – an image of reality that many wanted to suppress.
When ISIS rolled into town the ballsy bloggers decided to use their smartphones and laptops to fight back against the Islamic State’s campaign of murder and repression.
‘Islamic State’s’ most wanted – Part 2: Resistance
“Everyone who spoke was either killed or had to swear allegiance…”
Islamic State representatives invite activists and media members to a meeting to ‘clear the air.’ Under the guise of diplomacy the terrorists take note of those who use words to fight against extremism. Hamoud refuses to hold back — taking part in a citywide graffiti campaign. Soon his life is in jeopardy and leaving Raqqa might be the only way to stay alive.
From a safe haven in Turkey the group continues their work. Thanks to an undercover activist named Moutaz they expose ISIS’ violence, and everyday incompetence.
‘Islamic State’s’ most wanted – Part 3: IS fight back
“We showed reality…that made ISIS crazy…”
Still in hiding, the group continues to produce content that shows a city in chaos ‘puncturing the myth of a glorious Caliphate.’ ISIS responds by delivering a stern warning during Friday prayers, and then takes action against Hamoud’s family.
‘Islamic State’s’ most wanted – Part 4: One Step Ahead
“May every apostate know that he will be slaughtered silently…”
Desperate to stop the citizen journalists ISIS cuts off internet service in Raqqa. Anyone found with their own connection will be executed. Thugs lock four people inside of a cage because they didn’t remove their home WiFi. The rebel journalists are forced to develop a secret method to communicate with undercover reporters in Raqqa.
Hassam recalls a close call with Islamic State goons at an execution, before joining his friends in Turkey. Terrorists remind the group that they can run, but can’t hide thanks to an operative named Tlas.
‘Islamic State’s’ most wanted – Part 5: Hidden But Unbeaten
“Every day I imagine how I would die…I don’t want my neck to cut with a knife…”
ISIS continues to single out Hamoud, and sends threats to the group. The guys tell Hamoud that it’s time to get out of Syria. A close friend is gunned down in a drive by shooting and the rest of the group goes deeper into hiding.