Media Carelessness Facilitating Terrorists Psychological Warfare in East Africa

Islamic Jihad terror attacks receive five times more media coverage than any other form of terrorism and violence in East Africa, particularly in Kenya, terrorism studies at SIS CT Center show.

Mainstream media house (Nation, Standard, Citizen, and the Star) are more likely to give terror attacks conducted by the Al-Qaeda branch in Somalia, Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen Movement (HSM) more coverage than any other type of high impact socio-political event. Terrorism is a strategy of psychological warfare, argues David Goldman, lead researcher at SIS CT Center. ‘The modern terrorist is motivated by a political agenda.’

According to International Institute of Terrorism Studies (ICT), terrorism is meant to undermine the sense of security through the creation of an unremitting paralyzing sensation of fear in the target community. As such, terrorists harm the target country’s ability to function and subsequently drive public opinion to pressure decision-makers to surrender to the terrorists’ demands and worse, covert the target population to tools for the terrorists to advance their political agenda.

According to a study by the Journal of Public and Professional Sociology, “as a social construct, terrorism takes place within a given historical and social context. Terrorism enhances the ability of a less powerful group to influence a more powerful group through a variety of tactics related to psychological operations.” This is the basis of SIS CT Center argument that media carelessness factors amplification of terrorists psychological warfare, and that terrorist groups like Harakat Al-Shabaab Mujahideen aren’t superior or powerful forces as media portrays them, rather weak sub-national group seeking socio-political salience.

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Mainstream media carelessly publishes content that describes terrorist’s activities as spectacular, thus successfully increasing fear within the terrorists target audiences. Terrorists rely on the media to facilitate and enhance their efforts, thus, mainstream media becomes terrorists choice psychological warfare force multiplier. Careless and quite aware of the threat posed by amplifying the drama of terrorism mainstream media in East Africa has provided attention, recognition and even claims of legitimacy to terrorists. This has helped terrorists outbid governments and worse, embolden them.


Psychological Operations and Terrorism: The Digital Domain

Terror as a Strategy of Psychological Warfare


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