Commentary: The Kenya Terror Reveals the Underside of Social Media

Commentary: The Kenya Terror Reveals the Underside of Social Media

Social media played a significant role in the strategy of the terrorists in the attack on the mall in Kenya.

Published September 23, 2013

When the revolutionary wave of demonstrations took hold in Egypt a few years ago, much was made about the positive role that social media played in the ability of the so-called Arab Spring to take hold. It was Twitter and Facebook that helped fuel the protests that eventually led to landmark change in the leadership of Egypt.

While the role of social media has been hailed as playing an integral role in many prominent international events, it is clear that there is a decided underside to the technology as the world witnessed in the horrific events in the recent brutal terror attack in Kenya.

The horror at the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall in Nairobi appears to be a highly sophisticated undertaking in which the role of social media was highly prominent. Al-Shabab, a militant Somali group, has claimed responsibility for the attack in Kenya. They are an organization that has killed countless civilians with suicide bombs on other parts of the world. During the course of the attack in the shopping mall, there were regular Twitter dispatches from the terrorists.

What’s more, the terrorists have also been tweeting in an attempt to explain to readers the rationale for the attacks, a tactic that is particularly galling.

In fact, Al-Shabab has had a series of Twitter accounts over the years and each of them has been suspended under a clause in the terms of service that bar direct threats of violence. Still, the terrorist group simply goes on to create new Twitter accounts. It is certainly not a comfortable vision of the role of social media.

Yet, this is an imperfect world where anything and everything can be – and is – used for purposes both virtuous and sinister. And social media outlets are no exception. Like most technological developments along the course of history, this is a bell that cannot be un-rung.

Just as social media can be used by university students alerting one another of a party or parents sharing photos of their newborns, it can also be used, as we have seen, to brandish jarring threats of violence and slaughter and to offer bizarre attempts to rationalize them.

If there is any solace that could come from this chilling scenario, it is the hope that the tweets may offer some insights into the mindset of the killers. Perhaps those insights would develop clues that might help governments like Kenya’s and others to gain perspectives on how to prevent future massacres before they occur.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks


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