The love affair between Twitter and the U.S. government is in danger of crashing as spectacularly as a celebrity relationship: with tears, disavowals, a chorus of "I told you so"s, and, of course, lawsuits. Like the Demi Moore - Ashton Kutcher (both popular Twitterati) breakup, the reason is alleged infidelity. In Twitter's case it's worse than a claimed hot tub fling, however. The online micro-blogging tool is accused of consorting with U.S. enemies: terrorist groups.
The Infidelity: On Dec. 7, 2011, al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group that wants to establish extreme Islamic law in Somalia – and does not shrink from using suicide bombings, along with stonings and beheadings – joined Twitter (@HSMPress). Since then it has used the online tool's 140-character public messages (or "tweets") to taunt enemies and spread its propaganda. It now has more than 8,000 followers.
Shabab isn't the first U.S.-designated terrorist group to embrace Twitter. Hezbollah has several affiliated accounts (including @almanarnews), as do Hamas (@AlqassamBrigade) and the Taliban. But Shabab is of special concern because it has recruited Somali-Americans from Minnesota to travel to Africa to become suicide bombers. The worry is that Shabab may eventually order them to conduct such operations closer to home.
The Fight: U.S. officials told the New York Times that they're "looking closely" at Shabab's use of Twitter and their options for legal and other responses. Separately, Sen. Joe Lieberman (@JoeLieberman), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, called on Twitter to shut down the Taliban's accounts.