Home US Government Wants To Shut Down Terrorist Twitter Account

US Government Wants To Shut Down Terrorist Twitter Account

The New York Times is reporting that U.S. officials are considering legal actions to shut down the Twitter account of the Shabab militant group of Somalia.

Noted for its brutality, the Islamic group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. The group has been using its Twitter account to taunt the Kenyan military, which was dispatched to Somalia in October to combat the Shabab.

Any such move to pressure Twitter to close the account, however, would pit free speech concerns against anti-terrorism efforts. “I was kind of shocked by the statement that story was making – I honestly thought it was a joke when I first saw it,” said Joshua King, general counsel at Avvo.com. “There’s really no legal authority they can use in this instance.”

The State Department is arguing that such a move would be similar to past efforts in which it used Web hosting and related services to target terrorist groups.

A Twitter spokesperson declined comment to the newspaper. The company’s Web site does not specifically address law enforcement and government requests to shut down user accounts, but the law enforcement policy section on its help site does say it will only turn over private user information if subpoenaed.

American officials told the newspaper that they fear the group is using its Twitter account – which is mostly written in English – to reach recruits in the West. The officials said they were exploring legal options for closing down the account out of fear that Americans would travel to Somali to train with the Shabad then return to the U.S. to commit acts of domestic terrorism.

The U.S. government “can certainly put pressure on companies like Twitter to do what they want, as we saw with WikiLeaks,” King said. “But Twitter has generally shown themselves to be a staunch defender of the First Amendment, so I doubt they’d be pressured in this case.”

The account was opened earlier this month and already has more than 5,000 followers. Many of the Tweets boast of military victories in ongoing skirmishes with the Kenyan army.

It’s not much of a stretch to see the messages are being targeted at outsiders, given how few Somali’s have access to the Internet. The Shabab operate in an area where many people live in poverty, and they have banned Western practices, including Western haircuts, music and bras. The group has blocked Western famine aid as well, and is perhaps best known for chopping off the hands of dissidents.

While some Twitter posters likened it to Tokyo Rose and wondered how the famed voice of Japanese propaganda during World War IOI would have fared in the age of Twitter, there are stark differences. Most notably, Tokyo Rose broadcast on Japanese airwaves; in the case of the Shabad, the group is using a means of communication owned and operated by a U.S.-based company.

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