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A man militants claim is journalist Steven Sotloff is shown in a video. / ISIS

It is social media at its ugliest.

Supporters of the Islamic State are using Twitter to taunt President Obama, reminding him that the fate of captive American journalist Steven Sotloff depends on him.

#StevensHeadinObamasHands rapidly became a trending hashtag this week as militants tweeted hideous images and graphic threats. The Islamic State has said it will kill Sotloff as it did American journalist James Wright Foley if the United States continues to bomb its forces in Iraq.

The militants have also insidiously included pop culture hashtags in their tweets in an apparent attempt to lure American teenagers to view them.

The hashtag-as-weapon campaign is a reminder of the dark side of social media. It also reflects the fact that journalists, who traditionally have attempted to stay out of the news they cover, have come front and center in the terrorism story.

The release last week of the video showing the beheading of Foley, who had been freelancing in Syria for the international news site GlobalPost, brought to the fore the serious threat posed by the Islamic State, once dismissed by Obama as a "jayvee team."

The video also focused attention on Sotloff, who had been freelancing in Syria for Time magazine when he was kidnapped in August 2013. The Islamic State made clear that Sotloff would suffer Foley's fate if the U.S. didn't halt its military actions.

On Wednesday, in a video broadcast on the Al Arabiya Network, Shirley Sotloff, Steven's mother, pleaded with the Islamic State to let him go.

"We have not seen Steven for over a year, and we miss him very much. We want to see him home safe and sound and to hug him," she said. "I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask for justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over."

There was some welcome good news on the kidnapped journalist front this week. Peter Theo Curtis, another freelancer who had been working in Syria, was freed Sunday after 22 months in captivity. Curtis, who had been writing for The New Republic and other publications under a pseudonym, was released by the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda-related group fighting to topple Syrian leader Bashar Assad. In a statement, Curtis thanked both the United States government and the government of Qatar for helping to secure his release.

It's no coincidence that all three of these kidnapped journalists were working as freelancers. The fast-evolving news landscape has led to a change in the makeup of the correspondent lineup in the world's danger zones. Traditional news outlets, with some important exceptions, have cut way back on their rosters of international reporters. Into the breach have come new organizations like GlobalPost and hordes of freelancers, many of them young.

Freelancers are generally much more vulnerable than reporters affiliated with news organizations; they often don't have the same support network. That said, GlobalPost worked diligently, if fruitlessly, to free Foley, And many acclaimed veteran correspondents have died covering combat in recent years - witness the tragic deaths in Syria of Anthony Shadid of The New York Times and Marie Colvin of London's Sunday Times.

Covering combat has always been dangerous, but it has gotten more so in the age of terror. Terrorists have turned to kidnapping, both for propaganda and as an extremely lucrative fundraising technique, and journalists have been among the targets. The New York Times reported in July that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations have raked in at least $125 million from kidnappings since 2008, $66 million of it last year.

Unlike European governments, which the Times said forked over the bulk of that money, U.S. policy is not to pay ransom, on the grounds that doing so simply encourages more kidnapping. The Islamic State was seeking a multimillion-dollar ransom for Foley's release.

But despite the extreme risks, journalists will continue to head for the hot zones. Illuminating conflicts is essential. And reporters will continue to bear witness.





Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Rieder: When journalists become the story

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