Are American companies complicit in jihadist PR?
Anwar al-Awlaki, known as the "Bin Laden of the Internet," recruited radicals online – until he was killed by an American drone. "Jihad Jane" sits in an American federal prison – she plotted to kill a Swedish cartoonist after viewing and commenting on YouTube videos. British authorities say rioters used social networks to coordinate mass civil disobedience last year, and prosecutors in Mexico have accused people of terrorism and sabotage by claiming that their Twitter posts helped spread false rumors about a school attack, leading to real-life violence.
Social media has real life consequences and is big-time communications in 2012. With all of the discussion this week about social media usage of the Israel Defense Forces, where are the authorities who should be concerned with Hamas, a worldwide terrorist organization freely tweeting? Hamas is an illegal organization in America and worldwide -- yet freely uses twitter via multiple accounts – including @hamasinfo, @AlqassamBrigade and others. Despite calls by U.S. Congressman Ted Poe in September that the Twitter accounts of terrorist organizations like Hamas, as well as el Sahbaba and Hizbollah, be shut down, it continues.
While today Hamas is in the headlines for attacking Israel, Hamas is on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and as the Department of Justice has stated, Hamas has threatened the U.S. on American soil. The head of Hamas condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden, whom he praised as a "martyr" and an "Arab holy warrior"
Terrorists have always understood that propaganda matters – and social media makes it easier for them to communicate, hence it’s a natural component of terror. Jerrold Post of the Political Psychology Program at George Washington University has said that terrorist groups give out handbooks dealing with how to attract maximum media attention. Al Qaeda recently started using the name “Ansar al-Sharia” because of the concern about negative baggage associated with the Al Qaeda name. Public Relations firms have been hired to represent Qaddafi, Assad, and last year Qatar hired a leading U.S. PR firm to lobby for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Even the Taliban understands the importance of Public Relations. In a scene which seems like a Saturday Night Live skit, this week a Taliban spokesperson sent out a routine email, but rather than using BCC (which keeps email addresses private), the spokesperson cc’ed everyone on his mailing list. Hundreds of email addresses, including legislators, academics and terrorists, were exposed in the email. Journalist Mustafa Kazemi tweeted: "Taliban have included all 4 of my email addresses on the leaked distribution list," and then: "Quite reassuring to my safety."
As PR matters so much to terrorist organizations, why allow them to use social media owned by American companies? It just doesn’t add up.
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