With the emergence of social media, this generation’s teenagers and young adults have become fluent in the technical aspects of the various outlets. Of course, with this generation there is a new breed of criminal, from gang members to terrorists. These criminals have taken to social media to coordinate meetings, as well as live-stream terrorist attacks.
In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in a mall in Kenya, people have become aware of extremist group al-Shabab’s social media presence. al-Shabab, which means The Youth, represents the current young people’s connection with social media. While previous generations of terrorists took to small internet forums with password protection for their discussions, this generation knew that they had to reach more people. Much to Twitter’s dismay, it has become the perfect place for terrorists to communicate and spread their messages – there is a high degree of anonymity among millions of users and tweets. This has rightfully gotten the attention of concerned officials about Twitter’s apparently lax regulations on criminal activity. The company’s head of security said that Twitter uses “both automated and manual systems to evaluate reports of users potentially violating Twitter Rules.” However, there is simply no way this is effective when there are near 500 million new tweets in almost 40 languages per day. While Twitter has shut down five of al-Shabab’s profiles, they make new ones with no consequence, with their newest profile having almost 6,000 followers already.
A study by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who prepares an annual Digital Terrorism and Hate report, says that Twitter has incited a 30% increase of hate and terrorism in the last year, and labeled Twitter as a “Chief Offender” in limiting and monitoring online hate and terrorism. The report says they gave Twitter an ‘F’ rating because they find dozens of terrorist profiles every week, but Twitter only disables a few – and the ones Twitter does delete resurface under new names soon after.
The reason terrorists have been actively using Twitter is because they can have complete control over the coverage of their content. While 9/11 put al-Qaeda on the television screens of hundreds of millions of televisions and radios, the terrorists could not broadcast their inside motives and updated news in real time. What happened in Kenya was one of the first documented instances of a terrorist organization tweeting during an attack in real time. The leader of al-Shabab even has a live-stream where he talks about the attack and other inside details. This is a nightmare for counter-terrorist officials because if terrorists begin live-streaming the actual acts of terror, the attacks “will become a form of theater in which terrorists not only get to write the play but also act as the primary producers of the coverage of the event,” according to CNN’s national security analyst. This potential for mass coverage would suit the terrorists’ goal of advertising their cause to a widespread audience even further.
The terrorists’ use of social media also features something that most social medial users are probably guilty of – bragging. While most people brag about going to events or running ten miles, terrorists gloat about their criminal activity. al-Shabab’s leader bragged that their attack in Kenya, saying that it “glaringly illuminated the sheer vulnerability of the different sections of the Kenyan forces, be they police, intelligence or the military. It’s a disaster for the Western politicians and their intelligence apparatuses who have miserably failed to save their own citizens.” Their leader is an infamous person, with a $7 million reward for his whereabouts, but this type of open gloating does not look good for Twitter’s brand.
Thus, with the new generation being articulate in social media, Twitter and other social media sites have to be aware of terrorists and criminals using their services for their advantage. Twitter has to implement new ways of shutting down these profiles permanently. At this point, it seems so easy for terrorists to have profiles that it is making a mockery out of Twitter’s policies.