The United States government has recently announced that it is becoming increasingly concerned about the Twitter account used by Al-Shabaab, and officials have said they are worried that Al-Shabaab might be using Twitter to reach potential recruits in the West.
A State Department spokesman said the government was “looking closely” at Al-Shabaab’s use of Twitter and possible measures to take in response. The US government has been analyzing the line between free speech and support for terrorism and exploring legal options to shut down Al-Shabaab’s new Twitter account.
In the last few weeks, Al-Shabaab has been using its Twitter account to fire off messages about battles with Kenyan forces and responding to the use of Twitter by Kenya’s military spokesman, Major Chirchir. The messages have been largely in English and clearly intended for an outside audience. American officials say they may have the legal authority to demand that Twitter close Al-Shabaab’s account which had more than four thousand followers at the beginning of last week.
In the past, federal law enforcement agencies have been able to take action against individuals using “web hosting and related services” for illegal purposes. US Government officials have said that the potential for American militants to travel to Somalia to train with Al-Shabaab and then return home to carry out terrorist activities is one of the major threats now facing the United States.
Already, several Americans have killed themselves as suicide bombers in Somalia working for Al-Shabaab and claimed dozens of victims in the process. Extending its propaganda war onto Twitter shows an intent by Al-Shabaab, currently weakened by a number of military defeats and setbacks, to try to use sophisticated media elements as a tool to create confusion and to maximize its appeal to possible foreign sympathizers.
Equally, however, the swapping of insults on Twitter offers little reliable information about the actual situation on the ground, and most of the content should be dismissed as inaccurate or exaggerated.