Ethical use of perpetrator content

IS fighters produced, or allowed for the release of, a series of photos and videos showing captives.

In the videos, women are seen requesting that the government acquiesces to the IS demands for a prisoner swap.

Despite the value of the videos as a propaganda or negotiation tool, they were also shared by activists working to secure the captive’s release. As noted above, Storyful investigated these videos, providing information to our news partners, but did not publish the names of the women or the videos publicly at that time.

This was an instance where concerns for individuals involved in the events shown in the perpetrator video had to be weighed against the public interest argument for publication. The videos alerted the local and international community to the situation of these captives. And public opinion helped spur government action. This was the primary way in which the videos spread online, as conversation about the hostages spurred their circulation.

By releasing videos, IS proved that the hostages were still alive and  sent a message to the Syrian government and the hostages’ families about their willingness to negotiate for their release.

Storyful monitored thousands of responses to the videos from Sweida residents. Most locals were relieved to see the hostages were still alive and that led to public pressure on the government to start negotiations. Others criticised IS and what they said was the government’s slow response.

Negotiations with IS to release the hostages broke down several times. During one such incident, IS reported the death of one of the hostages, due to ill-health, according to Sweida 24. IS also shared a graphic video of the beheading of a young man from Swedia, who was reportedly among the hostages, and named as Muhannad Toukan Abu Ammar, مهند ذوقان ابو عمار in Arabic in local reports, as well as a video described as showing the shooting of one of the women hostages in the head. This led to increased pressure and protest from family members and the local community.

Following the release of the graphic video, families fearing for the lives of the captives gathered in the main square in Sweida, appealing for the government and Russia to work for the hostages’ immediate release.

Videos of the victims were central to public discourse as the story developed, but also stand as evidence of IS crimes and human rights violations, such as the capture and use of hostages for political gain.

There have not been reports that an investigation is underway to identify the perpetrators in this case.

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