The horrors wrought by the Syrian government’s relentless barrel bombing of the besieged city of Aleppo and others are documented daily by international news organizations. Starting today, visitors to www.360Syria.com can experience the war’s impact first hand through a self-guided, web virtual reality campaign created by San Francisco-based design and technology agency Junior for Amnesty International UK.
“Fear of the Sky” uses 360-degree photography, narration, sound recordings, WebGL 3D graphics, and videos gathered by Amnesty-trained Syrian media activists to bring attention to the mass destruction and casualties in the war-torn region. Designed for viewing on any internet-connected VR device, the user experience is also seamless on desktop and mobile platforms. Users are transported to rubble-strewn streets for a powerful and disturbing immersive experience where they can see and hear apocalyptic scenes. A school playground in the residential neighborhood of Ansari Sharqi and a vegetable market in Aleppo's Bustan al-Qasr district are among the scenes captured. Images of rescue efforts of unarmed civilians by Syrian Civil Defense teams are also featured.
“VR is the next frontier of mass digital experience, but the applications and cost of the gear are too far out of reach for all but the most technically savvy audiences,” said Junior Co-founder Robbie Whiting. “WebVR is a great democratizing force enabling any user with any device to have a fully immersive experience, headset or not.”
Amnesty has launched the #360Syria site working closely with a group of Syrian media activists from Aleppo calledLamba Media Production. In the aftermath of barrel bombings and other attacks, these citizen journalists visited attack sites to document the aftermath and create evidence of widespread human rights violations by all sides in the conflict.
“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a virtual reality experience is worth a whole book,” said Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen. “Many of us might think we know what’s been happening with the Syrian government’s barrel bombing of places like Aleppo, but viewing these apocalyptic scenes from 360-degrees provides a new level of understanding.”
The #360Syria project builds on a street fundraising campaign launched last year which uses virtual reality headsets, part of Amnesty’s development of new technology-based campaigning. Last May, Amnesty began using virtual reality viewers in its street fundraising operations in London, Manchester, Bristol, and Leeds, allowing people to see scenes of destruction in barrel-bombed districts of Aleppo. Street fundraisers have seen a strong and often emotional response from the public and a significant increase in people signing up to direct debit donations toward Amnesty’s human rights work. The highly cost-effective project uses inexpensive, refurbished smartphones and low-tech virtual reality headsets that cost less than £15 each.
Zac Rolland, technology lead at Project: WorldWide agency Junior, said WebVR – using A-Frame powered by Mozilla – offered an innovative way to put an empathy-building experience in the hands of an exponentially greater number of people. “The devastation in Syria is heart-breaking,” said Rolland. “Our challenge was to find the most compelling and accessible way for technology to help the world understand and experience what is happening on the ground. WebVR does just that.”