Online shaming, whether its targeting sex offenders or sexually-frustrated teenagers, is one of the internet’s most popular uses. Whether there’s any truth in the claims obviously varies from case to case, but the reality is it often comes with catastrophic results – once the information is out there it’s hard to take back. But I guess that's not something the guys behind Syrienblog are concerned about.
The pro-Assad website focuses on exposing alleged Danish Islamists who travel to Syria to fight for the rebel forces. Its authors do this by anonymously posting people's names and pictures, and have in some instances gone as far as to upload photos of the alleged fighters’ sisters or girlfriends, commentating on their alleged promiscuity.
Through pictures, rumours, Facebook posts and even old school photos, Syrienblog dissect past lives and sometimes joyfully describe how they’ve been brought to an end by Assad’s troops. So far, the site has posted 16 portraits, most of which are accompanied by a thorough biography.
The website claims to be non-profit and free of commercials, but will pay up to $900 (£540) for a tip. In just the past couple of years they have gathered a monthly readership of around 10,000 people. A few weeks ago I got in touch with the editors to find out why they were doing what they were doing, but I was initially turned down due to obvious safety concerns.
However, after a long email exchange the editors agreed on an anonymous interview over Skype.
VICE: Hey, thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
Syrienblog.net: What do you want to know?
I guess I want to know why you started Syrienblog.net.
We started back in 2012. Back then, the so-called ”Syrian rebels” were portrayed as freedom fighters and pro-democratic activists. Obviously that was a lie. The Syrian media called them terrorists, but the Western media demonised this kind of view. The same thing happened in Libya, where Gaddafi was mocked and laughed at when he said he was fighting al-Qaeda warriors. People aren't laughing now. Luckily, the truth is more evident now.
So what's your agenda now?
Today, our main focus is on all the terrorists that travel from Denmark to Syria to commit acts of terrorism. The Danish government has completely neglected doing this – it's bizarre.
Our primary objective is to challenge the government’s passive approach. It's no longer a question of whether or not the conflict is coming to Europe or Denmark. The West has supported these terrorists and ignored the threat they pose. The Syrian government warned us about this situation three years ago, but they were met with laughter and ridicule. An alternative coverage was necessary and that's why Syrienblog exists.
Who are you?
Syrienblog is completely autonomous and independent. There's no group backing us or pulling the strings. Syrienblog is Syrienblog.
How many people are working on Syrienblog.
We are less than ten people.
Where are you from?
Roughly half of us are European and half are Arabic.
I know you're very protective of your identity, but can you give us any sort of idea of who you are? I'm guessing you looked me up.
Any idiot can call himself Andreas Digens and claim to be from VICE. Yes, we communicated through your VICE e-mail, but we treat everybody the same, sorry. It's a safety issue. We have principles about never getting personal. Consider me as Syrienblog, not as a person.
Your page is registered in Cuba, but you produce content from both Denmark and Syria. How is the website being financed?
We pay for everything ourselves. We don't have expenses like salaries or rent, so it's not that expensive to do.
The website states that you pay 900 USD for tips.
We do. That's not any different from people spending money on their hobbies. It's not like we pay that amount on a daily basis.
Your 'About' page states that you support Syria in the same way that Assad does, without supporting Assad. What's your actual goal?
Assad is at the moment the only legitimate President of Syria. What's the alternative? A self-proclaimed Caliph? An exiled opposition that lives in a luxury hotel in Turkey and speaks better English than Arabic? Someone who hasn’t even been to Syria in 30 years? That wouldn't make for a trustworthy President. The President serves Syria, not the other way around.
So what's the solution?
Before we can even discuss a solution, the terrorism must stop. The US, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and the EU must stop facilitating the terrorists with weapons. Turkey and Jordan must close their borders for Jihadists and Denmark and other countries must stop the many terrorists from going to Syria. The war going on is not Syrian, it merely takes place in Syria. There are warriors from 150 countries and foreign powers are a deciding factor in the struggle.
Is that why you're outing Danish fighters?
We started this to document that the people that Danish media portrays as freedom fighters are really al-Qaeda followers. We wanted to show the extent of this problem. And we think that people have a right to know if their neighbour, brother-in-law or teacher is a terrorist.
You show pictures and name names. You don't think that's taking it too far?
No, not at all. It's not like we break into people's homes and steal their family albums. They put everything on the Internet themselves.
So what's your plan for the future?
To continue the work we do and to keep exposing terrorists with links to Denmark. We have more portraits coming and we will publish them.
You're very determined to stay anonymous. Why?
It's a safety concern. There's an obvious risk attached to publishing information about armed and crazy extremists that the government has let roam free. We want to postpone the war on Danish soil as long as we can.
So you think the war is definitely coming to Europe?
Yes! Of course it is. You'd have to be pretty naive to think that the thousands of al-Qaeda sympathisers in Denmark and the rest of Europe are going to sit on their hands forever. If someone gets to the point of decapitating "infidels" and blow themselves up in Syria and Iraq, that means they won't have a problem to do the same thing anywhere else. It's only a matter of time until this war reaches us.
OK. Thank you Syrienblog.