Al Shabaab Has Been Dismantled ... on Twitter

More

Reports of the Somali militants' digital demise are absolutely true. 

In Somalia, the Internet is a precious thing. Only 1 percent of the population can access the Web. Still, you don't necessarily need to be online to run a Twitter account, and Somalia's most notorious Islamist group, al Shabaab, has taken advantage of that and made a name for itself on the service using the handle @HSMPress.

But don't bother clicking that link -- the account has been suspended. A spokesperson for the group told Reuters today that al Shabaab's Christian "enemies" shut down its online activity because "they could not tolerate the grief" being heaped upon them.

From a Google-cached version of @HSMPress's page, it's still possible to see what may have led Twitter to ban the account. This is what their profile looked like as of 8:50 a.m. Eastern time on January 24:

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 10.41.11 AM-615.png

In their final tweets, the militants threatened to execute a handful of Kenyan prisoners unless the Kenyan government released Muslims detained on terrorism charges. Officials in Nairobi denied to Reuters that they requested al Shabaab's account be deactivated.

This isn't the first time a media platform has considered intervening in a political conflict playing out online. Last year, YouTube briefly took down this video showing Israeli jets assassinating Hamas' top military leader.

Although the video was later restored, the incident raised questions over when and how strongly social networks should enforce their terms of service -- and whether the legalese ought to cover acts of war.

The conflict brewing between al Shabaab and the Kenyan government isn't technically a war. But the episode is another example of the way that successfully taking politics to the Web -- whether violently or not -- depends a great deal on the complicity of content platforms. You can't have a social media war without the gatekeepers to host it.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Brian Fung is the technology writer at National Journal. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and has written for Foreign Policy and The Washington Post.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

Just In