The world is a dangerous place for journalists trying to get the story out about places that don’t want the story told.
Witness the dramatic story of Edith Bouvier and William Daniels, two French journalists trapped inside the besieged Syrian rebel district of Bab Amr for a harrowing week last February with two other colleagues.
An excerpt from the March 19 edition of Time Magazine depicts the problem especially for Edith. Her left leg had been broken in a rocket attack in a Syrian home where she and her colleagues sought momentary refuge from an ongoing firefight between the Syrian army and rebel forces protesting President Bashar al-Assad’s repressive regime.
“The four survivors (two other journalists were with them and managed to escape quicker) were ushered into a new hideout: a single room with one small window, surrounded by taller houses and hidden from the street. For the next four days (they) were trapped there, listening to rockets and shells exploding from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and sometimes during the night. ‘Some days there were 300 bombs,’ Daniels says.”
The situation was dire. Two of their journalistic colleagues had been killed in the rocket attack that broke Edith’s femur. They all risked their lives to report on the conflict after being smuggled in, the government was upset about that, and military forces were hunting them down. If found, they didn’t expect to survive.
Turning to YouTube
That’s when Williams and Bouvier turned to the social media for help.
Sites like YouTube and Facebook which we take for granted and use so frivolously at times, were looking like the only chance that these refugees in a war zone had to stay alive on the night of Feb. 22.
Williams and Bouvier, who was in pain and bleeding from her wound, needed to contact the outside world to seek help. But their options were greatly limited. While they could use cell phones, those phones could be used against them as Syrian military could pinpoint their location simply by triangulating the phone signals.
Journalist Vivienne Walt writes of Daniels’ decision to try another communication platform:
“With the media center destroyed, the closest Internet connection to the new hideout was a hazardous 10-minute walk through Bab Amr, which was ringed with government snipers. The journalists recorded a video and handed it to activists who braved the route and uploaded it to YouTube.
The video runs 6 minutes and 32 seconds, is done in French, Arabic, and English, and features Bouvier speaking of her injuries and need for evacuation as she lies in bed with the fighting going on outside the walls of the hideout.
Walt explains: “Seen throughout the world, the video showed Daniels (photographer Paul Conroy) and Bouvier appealing to French authorities and the International Committee for the Red Cross to evacuate them. Terrified that Assad’s forces would find them, they lied about heir location, saying in the video that they were far from the hospital … Their living conditions, however, were growing worse.”
Courage pays off
Ultimately, it would not be YouTube that resulted in the evacuation of the small band of Williams and Bouvier; it was their own bravery and creativity in throwing in with a group of fighters from the Free Syrian Army who spirited them across the border into Lebanon on March 1.
But the notion that, given a little more time the social media exposure could have done the trick, is a fascinating one. It is only a short distance from an uploaded video on YouTube to the re-posting of it on Facebook and the tweeting of it on Twitter.
Individual stories count
The Kony 2012 video showed us all how fast this viral exposure can work in awaking the world to an issue that needs attention.
Even if that issue is just four European journalists trying to survive through another night as they try valiantly to get a story out about a rogue government trying to kill its own people.
Because, in the world of the social media, individual stories, plights, and faces can capture the world’s attention and produce action to help those in need.