Dripping Venom in My Ear: Why I Follow Terrorists on Twitter

I make a point of following people I disagree with on Twitter. I don’t want my social media life to be a liberal echo-chamber. I usually follow a mix of fellow do-gooders:

Tweet text: "It will get down to 25 degrees tonight. 800-535-7232 is the DC hypothermia hotline. If you see any homeless individuals out, please call! "

Tweet text: "Make sure you are calling in tips to the national hotline when you see a young person being prostituted. They are waiting to hear from you. "

People I know In Real Life, organizations I care about, and joke accounts. I also make a point of following all of the Republican candidates for president and their most articulate online supporters. I also have a project of following everyone talking about human trafficking that I can find, and everyone tweeting articulately in Arabic or English in the Middle East. This last one has given me profound dividends, from an easy way to instantly get a feel for local reactions to regional news to gems like this:

Tweet text: "Photo of Kabul snow today. View from our home's gate http://yfrog.com/h0l4pwaj - Photo taken by my landlord @bsarwary"I also follow people with whom I disagree. Sometimes they are snarky about my positions, and I practice thinking calm responses:

Tweet text: "Australia #sexworkers discuss negative effects of feminism and the professionalisation of sex workers rights activism http://bit.ly/so5gPC "

Others are crudely dismissive, which also leads to me thinking of a calm blue sky and scrolling past:

Tweet text: "If you are ok with abortion but pissed about Marines making a mistake you might be a liberal. #caring "

But none of these tweets or accounts spew the kind of repugnant poison I get from following terrorists:

Tweet text: "2 invaders shot dead in Musa Kala http://shahamat-english.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14463:2-invaders-shot-dead-in-musa-kala&catid=1:news&Itemid=2 "

Tweet text: "4 #Burundian soldiers died and 1 is seriously injured after one brave #Mujahid planted an IED at their defense post in #Mogadishu last night "

Tweet text: "8 puppets killed and wounded in attack on NATO logistical convoy: KANDAHAR, Jan. 14 – At least 8 escort security... http://bit.ly/ySKDHl "

Tweet text: "@Hodiyana Perhaps we are unreconstructed fundamentalists who believe that fundamentals of Islam do not need to be reformed to suit modernity "

@ABalkhi is a representative of the Taliban in Afghanistan and @HSMPress is the Twitter account for Al-Shabab, the Al-Qaeda affiliated (aspirationally affiliated in some eyes) group in Somalia. Yes, the “invaders” Abdulqahar Balkhi claims were killed were U.S. soldiers.

These accounts are primarily in English, as opposed Pashto, Somali or Arabic and most of their followers are journalists, pundits, and wonks like me. They are also party to significant push back from official NATO and Kenyan accounts, including an officer involved in the Kenyan military actions in Somalia.

They are obviously propaganda. A few members of Congress want these kinds of accounts banned from Twitter just as South Korea threatened to sue its own citizens if they followed or retweeted the official North Korean twitter account (which I do not follow, entirely because it is exclusively in Korean and Twitter is for reading).

My country is killing people in Afghanistan, killed people in Somalia. As an American my brand is tied to those “invaders” and those “puppets”. I follow the accounts of terrorist organizations because I can. Because the information is there, and I have a responsibility to be able to speak knowledgeably about issues that matter to me and that I cannot help but being linked to by virtue of my homeland.

These Twitter accounts do not represent the voice of Afghanis or of Somalis any more than the Twitter accounts for the KKK or Operation Rescue represents the voice of Americans. But these terrorist voices represent some of the most dangerous people in Afghanistan and in Somalia, to Afghans and Somalis and to me. They also, crucially, represent voices which I can never hear without comment through normal media.

When I see a tweet gloating about killing Americans sandwiched between an update on a friend’s homework and the newest presidential poll, it is jolting and uncomfortable. But it grounds me in the reality of being an American today, and that is important if not always pleasant.

Inspirational Quote:

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”–Winston Churchill

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