September 29, 2013

The tweet that shook Portland’s Somalis

Stereotypes and fears are brought to the surface when Maine gets tied to a terrorist attack in Kenya.

By J. Craig Anderson
Staff Writer

and Eric Russell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Mohammed Dini, director of the African Diaspora Institute, says Somali-Americans feel a backlash from media reports about a possible connection with the Kenya mall attack.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

"Twitter is powerful because it's in real-time," said James Sheehan, one of the authors of the study, in an email. "A supporter of al-Shabaab in the US or UK can follow events as they are happening, creating a sense of urgency and excitement among sympathizers. Supporters may feel that atrocities against Muslims are happening right now, the war is being waged and all the while the readers are merely sitting at home.

"They can also follow an attack for which al-Shabab claims to be responsible, as it is happening or shortly after. For supporters this can create a sense of moral shock coupled with a strong emotional impact."

Sheehan said groups like al-Shabab have effectively used social media to promote their message as reliable, whether it is or not.

"One thing that al-Shabaab has been really effective at on Twitter is focusing their message on some key points, namely the promotion of their overarching narrative of the conflict, descriptive messaging about specific attacks focused mainly on their operational capacity, and promoting their group and media products as the only trusted source of information," Sheehan said.

Sheehan also said that because Somalia's technological infrastructure is stable and robust, groups such as al-Shabab can easily use photos and videos as part of its message.

"Access to these photos and raw footage which is then edited into propaganda videos and spread over the Web has easy pathways to the West," he said. 

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell


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