The Slippery Slope of Material Support Prosecutions: Social Media Support to Terrorists

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This article deals with the use of social media by terrorist groups as a means to curry support, fundraise, recruit, and spread ideology. The major case study it assesses is the aftermath of the September 21, 2013, attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, by a group of al-Shabaab gunmen. In conjunction with this attack, al-Shabaab’s media wing, HSM Press, launched a public relations campaign on Twitter claiming responsibility for the attack, posting live information and pictures, and taunting Kenyan and global security forces with threats of future action. More recently, the Islamic State’s social media campaign has drawn much international attention. The paper ends with a discussion of the implications of government crackdowns on social media activity and advocates against the US government implementing constitutionally-questionable internet censorship to combat the threat.

This article will be of particular use to researchers wishing to understand the variety of activities extremist groups are harnessing social media to undertake, and how processes of criminalizing material are progressing. This article also includes several policy and doctrine recommendations for confronting cyber terrorism.

Emily Goldberg Knox

December 2014