Should Twitter allow al-Shabab to post photos of dead French soldiers?

With the French government shocking many around the world by dispatching troops to push back Islamist insurgents in Mali, Somalia's al-Shabab militants took to social media today to taunt the French government after a failed raid to rescue an intelligence officer resulted in the deaths of two French soldiers.

"François Hollande, was it worth it?" the group's official Twitter account, HSMPress (warning: Very graphic), wrote as a caption on a picture of one of the slain soldiers. Another image takes note of the crucifix the man is wearing, with the caption, "A return of the crusades, but the cross could not save him from the sword."

France's defense minister had predicted earlier in the day that al-Shabab was "preparing to organise a disgraceful and macabre display" of the bodies. As the AFP notes, this incident recalls the 1993 dragging of U.S. soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu.

But while it's not exactly unprecedented, I suspect al-Shabab's posting of the photos will renew calls for Twitter to shut down the accounts of violent extremist groups. I recognize that a blanket ban on images like this would do more harm than good, hampering the ability of activists to publicize atrocities in countries like Syria. But Twitter already prohibits users from posting "direct, specific threats of violence against others," which pretty much describes everything written by HSMPress. As I wrote back in October, it's possible that authorities may find the intelligence they gain from following these accounts outweighs whatever propaganda value groups like al-Shabab are getting out of them.

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