When Bashar al-Assad joined Instagram last week, US media waged an intifada lambasting the embattled Syrian president for his “propaganda” effort.
“Instagram becomes latest propaganda tool for Syria’s embattled president,” read the headline in the Washington Post.
“This Is What It Looks Like When A Brutal Dictator Starts Using Instagram,” said BuzzFeed.
“Syrian President Assad’s Desperate Instagram Feed,” wrote the Daily Beast.
“Syrian president recruits Instagram in ongoing propaganda war,” said The Verge.
“Bashar Assad’s Instagram Is Every Bit The Propaganda You’d Expect From The Syrian President’s Social Media Minions,” said the always elaborate Huffington Post.
Around that same time White House photographer Pete Souza, a former photojournalist with Chicago newspapers hired by the president in 2009, also joined Instagram.
Here’s how some of those headlines read:
“White House photographer debuts Instagram account,” said the Washington Post.
“White House Photographer Joins Instagram And It’s Amazing,” said BuzzFeed.
But Time didn’t ask the former news photographer how he feels now that he’s surrendered all independence and is getting paid to disseminate images of the president that the US government wants us to see. Instead Souza was asked about Bo, the White House dog.
“The Instagrams of Bo are excellent – how is he as a subject?”
Followed by this hard-hitting question:
“Are you going to do any selfies?”
There’s a very simple explanation for why we’re not going to see Obama signing his secret weekly kill lists or operating drones over civilian areas in Pakistan, just as we’re not going to see images of Assad shelling homes in Aleppo or the underground detention centers where opposition activists are held. Both men (and their respective staffs) control what is allowed to be published on these social media platforms.
I don’t disagree that Assad’s Instagram account is propaganda, it clearly is. But let’s not kid ourselves that Obama’s account is anything different. So why aren’t US media calling it that?