Kate Starbird, Ahmer Arif, Tom Wilson, Katherine Van Koevering, Katya Yefimova & Daniel Scarnecchia
Abstract This research examines the competing narratives about the role and function of Syria Civil Defence, a volunteer humanitarian organization popularly known as the White Helmets, working in war-torn Syria. Using a mixed-method approach based on seed data collected from Twitter, and then extending out to the websites cited in that data, we examine content sharing practices across distinct media domains that functioned to construct, shape, and propagate these narratives. We articulate a predominantly alternative media “echo-system” of websites that repeatedly share content about the White Helmets. Among other findings, our work reveals a small set of websites and authors generating content that is spread across diverse sites, drawing audiences from distinct communities into a shared narrative. This analysis also reveals the integration of government-funded media and geopolitical think tanks as source content for anti-White Helmets narratives. More broadly, the analysis demonstrates the role of alternative newswire-like services in providing content for alternative media websites. Though additional work is needed to understand these patterns over time and across topics, this paper provides insight into the dynamics of this multi-layered media ecosystem.