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:
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:
I also follow people with whom I disagree. Sometimes they are snarky about my positions, and I practice thinking calm responses:
Others are crudely dismissive, which also leads to me thinking of a calm blue sky and scrolling past:
But none of these tweets or accounts spew the kind of repugnant poison I get from following terrorists:
@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.
“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”–Winston Churchill