Inside The Network Of Trolls Accusing A 15-Year-Old Tweeting In Syria Of Being Fake News

A Twitter account that has received international attention for tweeting videos from a place in Syria that's been described as "hell on Earth"" is now being swarmed by pro-Assad and pro-Russia trolls.

This is Muhammad Najem. According to his Twitter account he's a 15-year-old boy living in Eastern Ghouta, Syria.

The area has been under siege by government and pro-Syrian regime forces for years. In the past week, the violence has intensified.

News organizations like CNN, the Guardian newspaper website in the UK, and international outlets like Middle East Eye have been sharing Najem's tweets and videos.

I love all my friends, I'm fine so far, I and my family and I sit in an underground shelter, no water, no electrici… https://t.co/v3Sm2TKIVr

"People should know about everything happening in Syria," he told CNN. "I want to follow my studies. I want to become a reporter when I grow up."

But pro-Assad and pro-Russia Twitter accounts are currently smearing Najem as a fake.

Trolls have built a case against Najem by focusing on similarities between what is happening in Eastern Ghouta to the siege of Aleppo in 2016.

MSM #Aleppo coverage 2016: -"Massacre of the century" -Barrel bombs -Last hospitals -Assad and Putin are killing h… https://t.co/Rzjei3SQDh

During the siege a 7-year-old girl, Bana Alabed, was widely covered by Western media after she and her mother live-tweeted the siege and their experiences — in a similar manner to Najem's.

Bana is notorious among these accounts, and has become something of a meme for this particular pocket of Twitter.

A lot of the denial stems from the difficulty in verifying anything coming out of Syria.

The complexity of the war — and the absence of international reporters in rebel-held zones — means many outlets rely on activists inside for info.

One of the few accounts Najem follows is one such activist: Qusay Noor. He told BuzzFeed News he was Najem's older brother.

Najem told BuzzFeed News via Twitter DM that he wouldn't be able to speak over the phone, saying that he only had Facebook and Twitter.

Najem, communicating through Twitter DMs, said the situation in Eastern Ghouta was awful: “It did not stop for five days, and even five minutes. It was the worst week in history.”

The fall of a barrel of Russian aircraft over my house and the victims of #syria 2018 #SaveGhouta 😭… https://t.co/d6ShbTTMts

This weekend, hours after the UN ceasefire had been announced, BuzzFeed News managed to get through to Najem again. The situation was the "same," he said.

Najem said his activist brother, Noor, was his "biggest assistant."

Asked about Bana — and if he was trying to do the same thing — Najem explained that although he had heard of her, he wanted to "work as a small journalist from [Eastern Ghouta]," but that he didn't know he would attract this much attention.

But Najem says he’ll keep making videos. "My idea only [was] to be [able to] tell the world what is happening here."