Bana al-Abed has captured the hearts of thousands around the world, with her seven-year old, toothless grin and her heartbreaking descriptions of life in the war-torn city of Aleppo, Syria. After first catching global attention three months ago on her Twitter account—which has since gained 220,000 followers—she immediately seemed to be something new, and provided direly needed insight into the distressing reality of violence
To those who read her tweets, it has become clear that she represents not only herself, but a whole generation of Syrian children who have been forced to grow up and spend the precious years of childhood amid bombs, gunfires, and crumbling concrete. With her hair in pigtails, she seems to also depict the epitome of bona fide innocence, which has made her accounts of the destruction in Syria all the more poignant.
Throughout the decade, social media has proven to be a powerful tool in rallying support for certain causes—examples that come to mind are the unforeseen reactions to the killing of Harambe, the World Wildlife Fund’s ‘connect2earth’ campaign, which gained 1 million views in the week after it went viral, and the ‘Show Your Hearts’ campaign, which was promoted by influential social media stars such as Ellen DeGeneres and Justin Bieber.
It comes as no surprise that a little girl sharing her struggles of living in a rebel-held Middle-Eastern city has touched so many hearts in the Western world, where this is not a constant reality, but a distant truth. Many have stated that it is an effective reminder of the terrible standards of living that exist in today’s world, which are often forgotten by the residents of developed nations. Therefore it is an eye-opening narrative of the civilian experience in present-day conflicts.
“Whether it’s Bana, or Alan Kurdi, or Omran Daqneesh, they bring attention to an issue in a way that helps people visualize a little more clearly the situation of children,” said Sonia Khush, Syria director of Save The Children.
In recent days, there has been a new theory emerging: that the account, which Bana claims is run by her mother, Fatemah, is in fact a fiction constructed by the United States as a propaganda tool to malign the Russian and Syrian governments. It is to be expected that such doubts about veracity and authenticity will find voices in an era of constant internet hoaxes, fabrications, and the circulation of fake information. Moreover, the theory is further supported by the fact that Bana’s account was temporarily deactivated over the weekend, before its reappearance with a reassuring tweet saying “Hello my friends, how are you? I am fine. I am getting better without medicine with too much bombing. I miss you. – Bana.”
The suspicion behind the origin of the tweets has been commented on by Juliette S. Touma, a UNICEF spokeswoman for the Middle East and North Africa, who acknowledged that there was, in Bana’s case, “no way to verify where the tweets are coming from, or whether they’re coming from the girl or somewhere else.”
At the same time, many people, including Touma, have agreed that whether the tweets are a hoax or a reality, they have been helpful in highlighting the story of children stuck in today’s crossfire by offering a glimpse into their terror-struck world. In the words of Bana’s mother, the Twitter account is so that “the voices of the children of Aleppo can be heard.”