There are plenty of examples documented in the literature of states and non-state groups using both traditional and social media to strengthen their legitimacy. From the publication of a ‘soul book’ by Saparmurat Niyazov, while president of Turkmenistan, which was intended to act as spiritual guidance for the nation (Matveeva, 2009) to Al Shabaab’s multimedia operation (Mwangi, 2012), states and non-state groups use innovative means to justify their authority. The extent to which state and non-state groups are willing to invest in media indicates that this approach is effective in strengthening their legitimacy.
Studies which analyse the use of media by states and non-state groups have not measured the extent to which this use affects their legitimacy. If a major component of legitimacy is people’s beliefs about the justification of authority, then research in communication studies and psychology on the influence of framing by the media on people’s beliefs is relevant (Harris & Sanborn, 2013). Of particular relevance is research which examines the impact of framing on US citizens’ perceptions of protest groups (McLeod, 1995; McLeod & Detenber, 1999; Shoemaker, 1982). These studies indicate that framing can influence audience perceptions of the nature of the protest, the groups involved, and the degree of public support they receive. The latest World Bank World Development Report (2015) also highlights how framing can influence perceptions and decision-making.
The role of media in increasing Al Shabaab’s legitimacy
Al Shabaab has a media wing ‘the Al Kataib Foundation for Media Productions’ which produces professionally edited and lengthy movies that are distributed through Al Qaeda’s outlet the Global Islamic Media Foundation. Al Shabaab also maintains websites which demonstrate a certain media savviness and professionalism that other factions in Somalia don’t have. Its website also allows it to communicate with the Somali diaspora and global jihadi movement, giving it international recognition and legitimacy (among other Islamists). In terms of more traditional media, Al Shabaab runs several radio stations such as Quran Karim Radio FM, Somali Wayen Radio FM, HornAfrik Radio and Radio Al-Andalus which not only disseminate its jihadist rhetoric but also portray the movement as a provider of basic economic and political goods and services (Mwangi, 2012).
- Harris, R. J., & Sanborn, F. W. (2014). A cognitive psychology of mass communication. Routledge: New York.
- Matveeva, A. (2009). Legitimising central Asian authoritarianism: Political manipulation and symbolic power. Europe-Asia Studies, 61(7), 1095–1121. See document online
- McLeod, D. M. (1995). Communicating deviance: The effects of television news coverage of social protest. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 39, 4–19. See document online
- McLeod, D. M., & Detenber, B. H. (1999). Framing effects of television news coverage of social protest. Journal of Communication, 49, 3–23. See document online
- Mwangi, O. G. (2012). State collapse, Al-Shabaab, Islamism, and legitimacy in Somalia. Politics, Religion & Ideology, 13(4), 513–27. See document online
- Shoemaker, P. (1982). The perceived legitimacy of deviant political groups. Two experiments on media effects. Communication Research, 9(2), 249-286.
- World Bank. (2015). World Development Report, 2015. Mind, society, and behavior. Washington, DC: World Bank. See document online