How 'apolitical' Western Youtubers help push Syrian propaganda
Their videos get huge amounts of clicks and profits on YouTube. And their vlogs show a Syria that has turned the page on years of civil war. But these so-called "apolitical" travel influencers are shown around the country by regime-sponsored guides that shape the narrative. One guide who appears in a number of travel vlogs even has family ties with the Syrian deputy minister of tourism.
Come spend your next summer holiday in Syria! That's the message from at least a dozen Western travel influencers who share videos showing the Middle Eastern country that has been devastated by years of civil war and still split into government and rebel-controlled zones.
They claim to show you "the Syria the media won't show you", like in this video by British vlogger Benjamin Rich, known to his 3.8 million subscribers by the name of his YouTube channel, Bald and Bankrupt.
In April 2022, Rich and his government-authorised translator/guide travelled to several Syrian cities under Damascus' control. The video shows him attending a football match in the capital, visiting the historic citadel of Aleppo and checking out a bombed hotel in Maaloula.
Even though Rich doesn't like all the ruins around, he doesn't blame the Syrian government, which has used barrel bombs as a weapon of repression for a decade, nor their allies.
The video of this trip has been viewed over 3.8 million times. In the description, Rich says he used an "independent tour agency" called Marrota Travel and Tourism, and gives the email address of a certain "Ayoub" working there.
Bassam Al Ahmad, director of the human rights NGO Syrians For Truth and Justice, explains: