As this weekend's Nairobi terrorist attack unfolded into a three-day ordeal, people all across the globe were clued into the drama by the persistent, and occasionally bizarre Twitter feed of the Kenyan national police force.
"We have taken control of all the floors. We're not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them," the Kenyan Police tweeted this morning, in regards to the hostage crisis at the Westgate Mall. Shortly before the pastry-laden subtweet, the police force gave the public an up-to-date count of how many terrorists they've killed:
We can confirm that 3 terrorists have been killed so far, a few others have suffered injuries via @kdfinfo— Kenya Police (@PoliceKE) September 23, 2013
And those are just two episodes in the Kenyan police's verified Twitter stream, which has turned into one of the most voyeuristic and surreal attempts at updating the public with the latest real-time information on this grave situation. The account (which didn't even exist until a week ago) has posted hundreds of messages in the last three days, from news updates to safety warnings to pleas for assistance. It's just the latest episode in story of law enforcement going to straight to the people for breaking news.
Do you know what happens when you speculate? You kill the Kenyan spirit, you give our attackers joy. We're handling a delicate situation.— InteriorCNG Ministry (@InteriorKE) September 23, 2013
The Kenyan police's move to announce the progress of the force on Twitter is the newest (and maybe best) way that police can inform the public about disasters, terror attacks, or ongoing crime situations. The recent adoption of social media shows they don't need journalists to do it. The Kenyan police force has essentially taken out the middle-man and put unfiltered information out for the public to see. It's not unlike what happened during the Boston bombing incident where the Boston Police was tweeting out information about the bombings. And it's similar in its strangeness to the Israel Defense Force live-taunting the enemy with threats of death from above last November, during their sustained assault on Gaza.
Those #KOT sharing certain images that are causing panic to the public, be advised, you are WARNED to stop, delete & refrain from falsehoods— Kenya Police (@PoliceKE) September 22, 2013
Much like the Boston bombing investigation, this situation also has an element of (for better or worse) crowd-sourcing:
We URGE all those who may have witnessed happenings or taken graphic images #Westgate Mall to pass them to us on 0729999988, urgently.IG— Kenya Police (@PoliceKE) September 23, 2013
As we grow more connected and plugged into social media the line that separates us and (in this case) a possible terrorist attack has slowly dissolved. The question now is: how much of it are you willing to watch?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.