When Alaa Basatneh was six months old her parents moved from Syria to Chicago. Alaa went to school here, but always paid close attention to news from the Middle East. In 2010, what became known as “The Arab Spring” transformed the region, and Alaa watched closely. She was only 19 years old and living in the United States, and recalls how she got involved in activism. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“When the Arab Spring began, they were reporting of a group of nine year olds in the school that decided to write on the walls, “We want to topple the regime.” What the principal did was call the authorities and they detained these kids. For a week, the Syrian authorities tortured these kids. That’s when I looked around the room and said to myself, “Alright, I am in Chicago. I cannot leave and go there. I can help with my laptop.” That’s when I went to social media and started adding activist. And I found myself in this whole big amazing world of technology and social media that I am actually reaching out to protesters on the ground. They would send me clips on the protests because my internet connection was way faster. It was obviously not censored so I could reach out to other social media agencies .The clips, the chants, and banners were all in Arabic. So I said why don’t we start translating everything into English. And I say ‘we’ because I felt I was with them on the ground. That’s the power of social media.
In the beginning of the revolution, I only had sixty friends on Facebook. I reached about a quarter of a million now. And that’s all thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.”