What do we make of terrorists turning to Twitter to let the world know their “take” of a standoff with the Kenyan military after a terrorist attack at an upscale Nairobi mall?
It may be hard to calibrate the meaning, but it is a game changer.
Just a few years ago I was part of the debates over whether reporters should share a terrorist’s or hostage taker’s conversation with the pubic. This was the era of the telephone when reporters connected with those who held the innocent captive and captured their voice in real time. I was part of a news organization at a TV station in Washington, DC. We were known players in the community and would get calls in the newsroom from those who were holding hostages.
The ethics of such conversations were debated. To find the details, the specifics or the motive of those in a stand off with police, news organizations and reporters would take calls—all in the name of newsgathering. But it also gave the hostage taker exactly what he or she wanted: Publicity.
How innocent that debate seems now.
In the middle of a weekend standoff involving Al-Shabaab militants in Nairobi, we learn they have a twitter account and are reaching out to the world, not by phone, but by tweets.
Al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-backed group claiming responsibility for the Kenyan attack, is tweeting snide comments, putting down the Kenyan authorities that are trying to force an end to the mall massacre while some innocents are still trapped inside. As reporters in Nairobi watched official helicopters fly over the mall area and heard the sound of gunfire, they try to gather facts to report on what is happening in real time.
Then the Al-Shabaab militants tweet their perspective, saying the police raids are wasted gestures and they will respond by killing more.
Terrorists as newsmakers and twitter savvy.
This may be the first time I’ve found organized terrorist groups have become modern-age public relations practitioners using the power of a tweet to focus the news cycle.
It’s fascinating to watch. And bone chilling.