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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.

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

Twitter / Muhammad Najem

Najem posts videos, in both Arabic and English, full of desperate pleas for an end to bombing in the place where he was born and raised.

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

Bassam Khabieh / Reuters

International monitors and activists on the ground say that as many as 500 people — 127 of them children — have been killed. Anti-government militant groups operating inside the besieged region have also launched bombs into areas held by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad's regime, killing at least 25. The United Nations Security Council recently announced a 30-day ceasefire. Various forces have continued to shell the area, claiming they are targeting what they describe as terrorists.

The UN secretary-general has described the area as "hell on Earth."

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."

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

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.

Mohammed Najem / Via Twitter: @muhammadnajem20

The Twitter account under his name first posted on Dec. 7, 2017, with a video of the teenager explaining who he was. A Facebook account under the same name was set up two days before that on Dec. 5.

BuzzFeed News also contacted a number of activists working in Syria in an attempt to determine whether the account — and Najem — are genuine.

Kenan Rahmani, an advocacy adviser with the Syria Campaign who relocated to Washington from Aleppo, told BuzzFeed News that his contacts in Eastern Ghouta believed Najem was also "legit." However, he was unable to provide more details about the family.

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.

Rose Troup Buchanan is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

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