A few weeks after its previous English-language Twitter account was suspended, al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda linked group from Somalia, has reappeared on the site.
The previous @HSMPress account was suspended when it was used to announce that al-Shabab would kill a French hostage, and then used to announce that it had, indeed, killed him. The new account is @HSMPress1
Meantime, Aaron Zelin writes in Foreign Policy about how persistent hacking attacks on traditional online forums used by militant Islamist groups are affecting their media strategies. For example, many are moving from password protected and relatively “closed” community forums to social sites such as Twitter.
On December 23, 2012… Abdullah Muhammad Mahmud, a writer for the jihadi news agency Dawa al-Haqq Foundation for Studies and Research, which is disseminated via a Wordpress blog, provided guidance to online jihadi activists. Mahmud told his comrades that going forward, it was legitimate to use Twitter and Facebook as sources of information for jihadi-related issues. This advice was in a sense revolutionary, as jihadis had previously emphazized the importance of the forums as a method for authenticating materials, to prevent forgeries of official group content. At the same time, though, many grassroots activists had already been active on online social media platforms for a few years on an individual basis.
If the dissemination of official releases is no longer to be done centrally, it has the potential to make the forums obsolete, and usher in a new era whereby jihadi activists primarily rely on social media platforms to interact with one another. It could also force groups that are part of al-Fajr’s distribution network to evolve and change their methods of content dissemination. There is already some evidence that this shift has started during the ongoing forum takedown.
Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute, just released a report on online jihadi behavior for the New American Foundation.
Images: Screenshots of selected Twitter posts by HSM Press, al-Shabab’s English-language press agency. Select to embiggen.
Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, on the decision to run the front page photo of a starving child in Somalia in Tuesday’s print edition:
We realize, of course, that the story du jour is the debt vote — to which we devoted the lead story and upwards of four pages this morning — but there’s no reason that has to eclipse a human catastrophe in Africa. Readers can follow more than one important story at a time.
Jeffrey and Tyler went to great trouble and some risk to get as close as they could to the calamity in Somalia. They sent us a harrowing story and vivid, arresting photographs. We put them before the attention of our readers. That’s our job.
The snapshot above shows mainstream news coverage of the famines currently ravaging the people of Somalia and the Horn of Africa. The data, taken from Google, contrast the media attention paid to recent incidents such as the Norway shooting, the phone hacking scandal in the U.K., and the Congressional battle to raise the debt ceiling.
Some 500,000 Somali children are reported to be on the verge of starvation, due to the most severe drought conditions in the region in two decades. Today The New York Times ran a graphic photo of a starving child on its front cover, with executive editor Bill Keller telling Salon, ”I know many readers found the picture disturbing. That’s good. The deaths of thousands of Somali children ought to disturb us, at least.”
With the debt fight over, will a shift in the media’s attention be enough to help the millions of vulnerable Somali’s and their neighbors avoid a starvation tragedy? Judging by the response so far, the outlook is grim.