tracking barrel bombs in Syria using Facebook

By Chris Albon

Barrel bombs are improved explosive devices comprised of metal containers (sometimes, but not always barrels) filled with explosives, shrapnel, or chemicals (notably chlorine). The weapons are cheap and when dropped out of the back of a aircraft or helicopter, devastating. Reporter Max Fisher eloquently summarizes the terrible nature of the weapons:

...there is something legitimately scary about the weapon's do-it-yourself ethos and its new systematic deployment against the neighborhoods of Aleppo. It speaks to the regime's single-minded focus on finding new ways to kill, its narrow and obsessive pursuit of mayhem and destruction as seemingly official strategy in the conflict that has run for nearly three years now.

Since 2012, the Syrian government has employed hundreds of barrel bombs in its continuing civil war with anti-government forces. While long rumored, the existence of barrel bombs in the Syrian civil war was first confirmed by Eliot Higgins using photos and video from YouTube, Facebook, and other social media platforms. Using Mr. Higgins' collection of Facebook feeds, available on CrisisNET, we are able to track the mentions of barrel bombings in Syria in real time. Furthermore, by linking barrel bombing reports with the cities mentioned in the posts, we can see a pronounced geographic pattern in the reports of barrel bombs in the country. Notably, three cities, Daraa, Damascus, and Aleppo experience significant more barrel bombing reports than other cities in the country.

Later this week we will post a detailed tutorial teaching you how to replicate this visualization yourself using CrisisNET. Don't want to wait? Get a CrisisNET API key and get started now.