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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad joins Instagram

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In an apparent move to bolster his image worldwide, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has joined Instagram -- a move slammed by the US as "revolting."

 One of @syrianpresidency's first posts feature Assad at the bedside of a citizen in hospital. (Instagram)

The @syrianpresidency account was registered on July 24, just two days after Assad's forces killed at least 75 Western-backed rebels in an ambush in Damascus -- part of a bloody civil war that has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced more than 1.8 million people since March of 2011.

But there is little by way of violent wartime imagery on what bills itself as "the official Instagram account for the presidency of the Syrian Arab republic."

Instead, visitors are presented with 76 photos (to date) featuring Assad and his wife, Asma, greeting citizens, serving meals to the elderly, comforting patients in hospital, and even wiping the tears from childrens' faces.

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The images are a touch too tender for some.

"It's repulsive that the Al Assad regime would use this to gloss over the brutality and suffering it is causing," said US State Department spokeswoman Marie Hard to reporters in Washington this week.

"To see what's really happening right now in Syria, to see the horrific atrocities in Homs and elsewhere, we would encourage people to take a look at unfiltered photos of what's actually happening on the ground."

There are many positive comments to be found under the Instagram photos themselves, though as the Associated Press reports, the Assad regime's social media accounts are moderated constantly to remove offensive remarks.

"I doubt you would ever see a picture of Mrs. Obama so humble. God Bless Mrs. Assad," reads a comment under a photograph of Asma feeding and elderly woman.

Another reads "Shukran Bashar Asad. :) Thank you for this great picture. :) Forever Asad, independence forever. :) Allah bless you."

And yet, some negative comments are finding their way through,

"Shame on you Mr Assad," said one commenter under a photo of the leader. "Liars and blood dealers," wrote another.

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Some are pointing out that this social media campaign is far from new new, linking to the Syrian leader's already active Youtube Channel, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Neither is Assad the first world leader accused of human rights violations to use social media in such a way; Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov also uses Instagram, and both Russian President Vladmir Putin, and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un have online presences that resonate far beyond the borders of the countries they rule.

"For all the talk of Twitter revolutions taking down dictators, it's important to remember that social media is a tool that can be used by both sides," writes Keith Wagstaff of The Week.

"And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, propaganda can reveal more about the regimes themselves -- their deepest wishes, their crippling fears, their fundamental weaknesses -- than their leaders ever intended to let on."

What are your thoughts on world leaders using social media to convey messages or, conversely, the world using social media to share their thoughts about world leaders?

Tags: pov, social media

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