She has been described as “our era’s Anne Frank,” updating the world on the horrors of war in Syria’s Aleppo in real-time.
But the story of Bana al-Abed, whose Twitter account now has more than 320,000 followers, took a much more fortunate turn on Monday. Several photos showed the 7-year old girl among a crowd of residents evacuated from Aleppo.
According to Ahmad Tarakji, the President of the Syrian American Medical Society, NGO workers are providing assistance to her and others.
Set up and operated with the help of her mother, an English teacher, Bana’s Twitter account had stood out among other sources of information in rebel-held east Aleppo. The descriptions of daily life under the siege moved many of her followers and fueled anger at the worsening humanitarian situation in Aleppo’s east.
“Bana — a petite child with long dark hair, big brown eyes and a lilting voice — quickly became the newest symbol for the horrors unfolding in Syria,” The Washington Post’s Caitlin Gibson wrote in a profile.
But online, her emotional messages also caused a backlash. Her mother Fatemah and Bana herself were attacked by critics who attempted to discredit the account’s authenticity. To them, the account appeared too active for a resident of a city which experienced frequent power cuts. Syrian President Bashar Assad also joined the chorus of people trying to mock her messages, portraying the account as “propaganda.”
As The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor has explained, the wave of criticism led to a fact-checking initiative by Bellingcat, a website which uses open-source information and social media to aid investigations. In their final report, former British army soldier Nick Waters and image analyst Timmi Allen rebuked most of the conspiracy theories that surrounded the Twitter account, for instance by locating her neighborhood.
Bana’s flight from Aleppo will now put an end to doubts over the authenticity of her account, her supporters hope.
In the last tweet that was published on Sunday, the 7-year old’s mother Fatemah made a plea to Turkey’s foreign minister and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to “make this ceasefire work.”
Comparisons between Anne Frank, a Dutch teenager who chronicled the Nazi horrors and was later killed by them, and Bana became more frequent in recent days as the 7-year old and her mother described how the Syrian regime army came closer to their neighborhood.
Whereas Anne Frank’s diary was published long after her death, the world was able to follow Bana’s messages within seconds.
“Because of the internet and social media, we see in real time what is happening inside Aleppo,” Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, recently explained.
It was the immediacy of Bana’s 140-character messages that made her case unique. Her memories of war and the suffering she described, however, are shared by many other children whose cases have not gone viral.