Alec Ross: No sympathy for al Shabaab Twitter account
Government control of the Internet is a losing proposition and al Shabaab deserves "no sympathy" from efforts to remove it from Twitter, said a State Department official during a Jan. 10 online talk.
Alec Ross, a senior advisor for innovation, responded to a question about a reported possible effort by the federal government to shut down the Somali terrorist organization's putative Twitter account, which comes in English and Arabic versions. The New York Times said in a Dec. 18 article that unidentified U.S. officials are considering taking legal measures to force the account offline.
"Al-Shabaab and other institutions that are purveyors of terror, they're going to get absolutely no sympathy from me, and they certainly aren't going to see me advocate for their rights," Ross said, stating that the fundamental question about al Shabaab on Twitter is not whether they can Tweet, but whether "they have the right to exist or not."
"And my answer to that is no. They should be dismantled; they should be destroyed," he said.
Minutes later, however, Ross said in response to a question on how to "deal or control" social media content that control of the Internet "is a losing proposition."
"The far better thing to do is to understand that everybody's going to have a voice, that good points of view and bad points of view are going to be conveyed there, and what we need to do is be aggressive in getting out there and pushing out the truth," he said.
The English al Shabaab Twitter account has gained a reputation for being strikingly interactive--for a handle that represents a group of murderous thugs--and for its articulateness, as in a Jan. 10 Tweet stating that "Perhaps we are unreconstructed fundamentalists who believe that fundamentals of Islam do not need to be reformed to suit modernity."
Calls for Twitter to remove the al Shabaab and other terrorist group accounts have garnered some criticism. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a Jan. 6 blog post, argues that no existing law would compel Twitter to shut down a terrorist group account, and that doing so would have the opposite effect of the intended one.
"Shutting down the pages of determined groups often results in the content being publicized more widely. This phenomenon--known as the Streisand Effect--is a strong argument for the old adage that the best response to 'bad' speech is more speech, not censorship," it states.
Closing accounts would also not cut off terrorist groups from using tools such as Twitter, the EFF also says, adding that they would continue to do so through proxies.
- go to the webpage of Alec Ross's Jan. 10 chat (transcript and webcast available)