Live-Tweeting Terror: A Rhetorical Analysis of @HSMPress_ Twitter Updates During the 2013 Nairobi Hostage Crisis

With the advent of social media, terrorist organisations have seized an unprecedented opportunity to engage wider audiences with their ideologies and actions. This study aims to develop an understanding of this tactic by analysing its use in the 2013 Westgate Mall hostage crisis. During that event, the Twitter account @HSMPress_ provided continuous updates supporting the actions of the terrorist organisation Al- Shabaab. Situating the event within a framework of Jürgen Habermas’s theories of the Public Sphere and Andrew Mack’s theories of asymmetric warfare, this paper employs Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic pentad to perform a rhetorical analysis of the tweets using both artistic and inartistic factors. It does so in order to understand how they engaged the audience of the terrorist event, emphasising the performative nature of the text in accordance with behaviourist objectives. The results of this analysis will demonstrate how terrorist groups may use platforms like Twitter to achieve a strategic political goal by shifting viewer perspectives, with significant implications for future policy governing social media content and censorship.

Tags: Al Shabaab, Censorship, Social Media, Social Media Analysis, Twitter