Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with 7-year-old Bana al-Abed and her family in a carefully staged photo opportunity at the presidential palace in Ankara Wednesday, after their evacuation from Aleppo earlier this week.
Turkish officials reported that Erdogan had personally sent a special envoy to Syria to airlift Bana and her family to Turkey during the evacuation of anti-government forces in eastern Aleppo began earlier this week.
The meeting, which included al-Abed's father who is reportedly a fighter with the al-Safwa Islamic Battalions, comes as the Syrian army liberated Aleppo as the country fights the military and media war against it.
Bana, who began tweeting from opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo in September, quickly amassed almost 300,000 Twitter followers — many, some say — coming from fake accounts as part of a project to promote the anti-government forces.
The Twitter account, managed by Bana’s English teacher mother Fatemah — but allegedly written by Bana herself — was often cited in mainstream new coverage of the siege of Aleppo.
Many, however, questioned the account’s authenticity, suggesting the linguistic, political, and digital sophistication of Bana’s tweets were well beyond the capacities of a 7-year-old writing in her second or third language.
Others still raised concerns about how quickly Western journalists and their readers were willing to take Bana’s tweets at face value without any authentication of the account’s location or author. Some have argued that in an era of “fake news” and in a conflict saturated with partisan propaganda on all sides, it was all too easy to suspend the normal journalistic standards of critically examining sources.
“It’s always a question of whether a 7-year-old is being used as a propaganda tool, and if so, by whom,” Jane E. Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, told the New York Times. “Sometimes we fall in love with a concept and basically ignore things that would undermine that concept, and ignore things that should be red flags.”