i Editor's Letter: The first social media seige


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The Independent Online


Nairobi is the first social media siege, the various protagonists broadcasting live. From the sophisticated propagandists of al-Shabaab – dancing around Twitter, bringing updates from the terrorists inside the shopping centre, as one account after another was shut down – to the hostages themselves, sending last messages to the world from their hiding places in store rooms and air vents, lest they be discovered and killed.

Last year we at i changed our house style to ask correspondents to stop writing “she tweeted” or “he said on Twitter” unless the medium was pertinent to the story. We decided that social media had become such a common means of communication that it was akin to writing “he said on the telephone” when quoting someone.

But in Nairobi, terrorism caught up with Twitter, allowing hostages, militants and commandos to talk to an appalled, captivated global public.

The Inspector General of Kenyan police, David Kimaiyo, sent a curious update yesterday as the special forces assault entered a critical phase: “Taken control of all the floors. We’re not here to feed the attackers with pastries but to finish and punish them. IG.” He now has 16,000 followers.

Radio Africa journalist Kamal Kaur, trapped inside, told of a little boy being shot dead next to her, as she covered her own children.

Another woman’s harrowing  messages began: “Im under the matresses!!! This might be my last tweet #Westgate mall : (”. She described the killings of several hostages before asking finally: “Is the backup here yet?” She made it out.

All of this amounted to little more than feeding our horror, in truth. Credit, then, to the Kenyans who used social media to organise mass blood donations and raise relief money.


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