Not long after Shabaab took responsibility for the Westgate mall attack, Twitter shut down the terror group’s official account. Although Twitter has acted against Shabaab’s accounts a couple times in the past, it had never done so while the jihadist group was live-tweeting one of its attacks.
As in the previous instances, Shabaab quickly returned to the social media platform to spew its hate and propaganda. At the same time, copycat accounts emerged, which led to false reporting and a bit of confusion for observers not used to following the al Qaeda affiliate on Twitter.
The most obvious instance occurred when two accounts (@HSM_Press2 and @HSM_PresOffice2) claimed to have the names of the Shabaab members carrying out the Westgate attack. After the accounts tweeted the names of the alleged terrorists, an official Shabaab account, now defunct, announced that the group’s press office “did not, at any point in time, reveal any details or names about the attacker at #Westgate.” The account added that people should: “Verify, don’t parrot everything you hear!” A Shabaab spokesman similarly told an Al Jazeera reporter: “The account that published the names is fake [and] the names are fake.”
Upon close review, the claims of the accounts should not have been taken that seriously as there were clues that the accounts were not official Shabaab accounts.
Here are a few reasons.
The al Qaeda flag used as the profile picture in most of the recent official Shabaab accounts has grey, while many of the unofficial accounts, including @HSM_Press2 and @HSM_PresOffice2, have white.
It should be noted that at least two past official accounts (@HSMPress1 and @HSM_PressOffice), had used white rather than grey in its flag.
In addition to the fact that the profile of the accounts that claimed to have names of the attackers was visually different from most past official accounts, the tone and writing style of the person tweeting from the account was notably different.
Here are a few tweets that should have set off major red flags.
Lastly, official Shabaab accounts appear to always first tweet in Arabic: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
Yet, with the one unofficial account we see that its first tweet was in English and not this Islamic phrase.
While Shabaab is currently active on Twitter with its latest account (@HSM_PR), it is only a matter of time before Twitter again whacks the Shabaab mole. They will return, however.
Although the identifiers of official accounts detailed here are not concrete and could easily be mimicked by wannabes or trolls, they provide a good starting point for those seeking to differentiate the official accounts from the unofficial ones.