01/06/2011 Web review: Schengen, Facebook bombardment and hockey on the menu at the recent plenary session

The plenary session which took place from May 9th to 12th 2011 garnered attention on the web for its discussions of the Schengen Area. However, the issue of sanctioning Syria caused the first orchestrated attack on the European Parliament’s Facebook page.

Schengen gets everyone talking

Debates on the possible review of the Schengen Area by several Member States really got people thinking and talking. Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Green MEP with a knack for getting noticed, has come out ahead once again on the Internet. His online tirade in which he accuses Europe of not accepting its responsibilities with regard to the migrant situation has been viewed 30,000 times.

He is not the only one though which proves that this debate is not only of interest to those directly affected by the wave of migrants resulting from the Arab revolutions this year. Nigel Farage, leader of the UKIP nationalist party, also had his voice heard on the matter with more than 15,000 views of the different online videos he made. Interestingly, Farage’s speech has done the rounds all over Europe. As a result, the British MEP’s video has been taken up by nationalists in Poland via YouTube. The Polish version has been viewed 5,700 times.

The increasing volume of the debate has also been picked up on Facebook. A lot of reactions have come through pro-European profiles. The Young European Federalists organisation changed its profile photo on Facebook to a border post with an X drawn over it. More than 500 people took up this symbolic act by adopting the photo on their Facebook pages.

Pro-Al Assad attack of the European Parliament’s Facebook page

The propaganda war is everywhere. During discussions in plenary regarding possible sanctions by the European Union against Syria, the European Parliament’s Facebook page was bombarded. Within just a few minutes, the Parliament’s Facebook wall was inundated with more than 800 comments. All the comments were in favour of Syrian leader Bachar Al-Assad.

The Parliament’s web team had to respond by denying access to its Facebook page from any Syria-based connection. Unfortunately, this Internet war of symbols is currently playing into the hands of the Syrian regime. This explains why the European Parliament’s Facebook page is inaccessible in Syria as the institution’s technical services have not managed to restore it  as a result of Syria’s ‘brave citizens’ supporting their leader...

Obviously, it is something of a false victory. The Parliament’s Facebook page has continuously been accessible to all those whose IP address is not Syrian and the hundreds of messages received are the work of a very small team within the Syrian regime. However, this action shows the extent to which dictators are mastering how new communication methods can work to their advantage. Until recently, they have concentrated rather on preventing the spread of information and the development of social networks among the population.

Jerzy Buzek gets people talking in Belarus

President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek has been causing a small commotion in Belarus. On Wednesday May 11th, he stated that the International Ice Hockey Federation should not allow the country to host the world championship in 2014 unless the regime frees all political prisoners. He sent a letter to the federation saying as much.

"Mr Buzek should be aware that since Ancient Greece sport has been beyond politics", said Andrei Savinikh, a spokesperson from the Belarus diplomatic service during a press conference in Minsk. Needless to say, the Lukashenko regime is not prepared to forego organising this competition as its team has been in the world top 10 for the last five years.

Reactions to Mr. Buzek’s suggestion have been largely positive on the opposition’s site, Charter 97. Belarusians appear to be fearful that, despite their passion for the sport, the event will be turned into an opportunity for pro-Lukashenko propaganda.

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