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The War You Missed Last Week

They've been hailed as the best hope for a political solution to the Syrian civil war, but it's now safe to say -- as everyone not named John Kerry had been predicting all along -- that Syria's bloodshed shows no signs of slowing down while diplomats toil away at U.N.-backed peace talks. The current round ended in Geneva Friday much like they started, with no actionable path towards a peaceful settlement to the nearly three-year-old conflict.

In the week since the talks began, 1,870 people, including 430 civilians, died in Syria, according the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. This week's toll is about average for the conflict, which has killed more than 130,000 people in three years.

While representatives from Syrian opposition groups and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad traded barbs, government helicopters continued to drop barrel bombs on rebel enclaves in the hard hit city of Aleppo. The bombs, oil drums filled with explosives and metal shrapnel, are crudely improvised and cannot be directed at targets with any real precision. The latest attack, on Thursday, killed at least 16 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In a recent cross-border attack, Syrian government tanks fired on rebels trying to flee into Lebanon. According to a security official, over a dozen shells exploded along the Lebanon-Syria border. The attack wounded two Lebanese and killed a Syrian refugee, a Lebanese security official told the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Syria has backtracked on its commitment to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile. The deal, which was negotiated last fall by U.S and Russian officials after an August chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held part of Damascus, did not codify any real enforcement mechanisms. Assad has stalled in surrendering the weapons, but with no leverage, the international community has few options to force Assad to comply with his disarmament obligations.

The second round of talks is scheduled to begin Feb. 10, though Syrian government officials have yet to confirm that they will attend. And while Geneva II offered little in the way of tangible progress, U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi expressed some hope that the past week was "a beginning on which we can build."

But with violence as brutal and intense as ever, there is little evidence to support his optimism.

Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images

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From Brooklyn to Kiev, How #DigitalMaidan Went Viral

From Kiev to Istanbul, Brasilia to Cairo, it's become a natural corollary of any modern protest movement: The battle isn't just won on the streets, but also in cyberspace.

In the case of the anti-government protests that have roiled Ukraine, the Twitter hashtag "#EuroMaidan" -- a portmanteau of the protesters' object of affection, Europe, and the square in which they have set up camp, Maidan -- has become a ubiquitous feature of the online conversation about the movement.

This week, another hashtag joined its ranks. After taking off Monday and trending worldwide, the hashtag "#DigitalMaidan" has become something of a constant presence in Twitter posts about Ukraine's protests. The hashtag stayed popular throughout the week, and the Twitter users who have adopted it have taken on a strident, anti-government tone.

But where did this hashtag, which over the course of the week has reached several million people, come from? Not Kiev, it turns out. Rather, this online campaign has its roots in New York.

Andrea Chalupa is a Brooklyn-based journalist of Ukrainian descent, and after seeing the the violent footage pouring out of Kiev, she was so distraught by the situation that she couldn't think of anything else. "I was crying and crying, I didn't want to go to work, I didn't want to see my friends," she told Foreign Policy.

Following the events on Twitter, she re-tweeted information coming out of Kiev from journalists on the ground. Soon after, strangers began harassing her on the social platform, calling the protesters "terrorists," saying that they were paid by the United States, and arguing that the anti-government upheaval was an American conspiracy. "I took it upon myself to educate them," she told FP.

And that's how #DigitalMaidan was born. Along with a friend who runs a digital marketing agency in New York, she launched Digitalmaidan.com. The site can make any Twitter user an instant Maidan activist. The tweets at the top of this post weren't just inspired by Chalupa's website. She wrote them with her friend. Twitter users merely take her pre-written tweets, plug them into their browser, and hit send. Suddenly, you're part of an online army.

The movement began to take off last weekend, when Chalupa invited her friends to join a "Twitter storm." By flooding Twitter with tweets containing the hashtag, she hoped to make #DigitalMaidan trend around the world, placing her message in the browser of nearly all of Twitter's 200 million users. Chalupa and her co-founder then invited 99 of her friends to a Facebook event promoting the initiative on Friday last week -- and before the storm was to take place on Monday, that number had grown to 30,000.

Its reach far exceeded Chalupa's expectations. #DigitalMaidan trended worldwide in just few minutes during the hour-long event Monday. Another "storm" took place on Thursday, Jan. 30. "If [the demonstrators] can protest in freezing temperatures, risk being tortured by the police or killed, then we in the diaspora need to do all we can to jolt the West into action," Chalupa wrote FP in an email.

Here's what a manufactured Twitter storm looks like. Welcome to activism in the digital era.

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