“This question should be asked to those people who are claiming to be promoters of freedom of speech, who do not allow publication of all information,” the group’s spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid, said. You can also ask Facebook. “I can ask Facebook. They should ask this question.”
This response implied that Facebook had been restricting freedom of speech. It also hinted at a strange power dynamic. While the Taliban is pressing for the US to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban still relies on American social media companies like Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB), and Twitter (TWTR), to spread its message both inside and outside Afghanistan. Multiple Taliban spokespersons, such as Mujahid Shaheen and Suhail Shaheen have verified, active accounts on Twitter with over 300,000.
Many of these platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp have stated that they would crackdown on Taliban accounts. Its attempts to circumvent or counter restrictions on online activity by the Taliban highlight how dependent the militant group is on Western tech companies. This could be a reversal of the Taliban’s decades-old rule that banned internet access.
Weeda Mehran is a University of Exeter lecturer on Afghanistan and a specialist in propaganda by extreme groups.
These platforms serve an important function for the Taliban in its quest to regain control over Afghanistan. Much of the group’s focus thus far has been on cultivating a more sanitized and rehabilitated image than the brutality it was known for the last time it was in power. According to Safiya, who is a director of McLarty Associates, and an ex-State Department advisor on Afghanistan, the group sees Twitter and Facebook as crucial to this effort.
She said that the Taliban were trying to alter their narrative, and she believes they are trying to do so by changing how they view themselves. You can see that change now, I believe. It has a lot to do with smartphones’ huge usage and the fact that so many people in Afghanistan have them. It’s a great way to spread your message. These tech platforms can be used to spread your message, as they’ve seen.”
You can dodging or imposing Internet bans.
Today’s Taliban approach to technology and media is quite different from when it was at the helm in 2000 and 1990. It then imposed television bans and blocked the internet. The Taliban explained that this was done to control “all those things which are evil, obscene and immoral, and contrary to Islam.”
Mehran claims that the Taliban’s current online presence began in 2001 when it lost power. The militant group posted videos online and shared messages. It has enthusiastically adopted platforms like Telegram, Facebook, WhatsApp, WhatsApp, and Twitter since then. None of these existed in its previous period as power.
This embrace coincides with an increase in Afghanistan’s internet use over the last decade. According to latest figures released by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Afghanistan had almost 10 million internet users and 23 million cell phone users as of 2019. 89% of Afghans were able to access telecommunications services. Facebook Messenger alone has around 3 million users in Afghanistan, according to the ministry.
Therefore, rather than imposing bans on the internet, the Taliban is now trying to circumvent them, at least temporarily.
Even as the US government and global community deliberate the extent to which they will recognize the militant group as Afghanistan’s official government, some Silicon Valley companies have taken matters into their own hands.
Facebook earlier this month reiterated its longstanding ban on the Taliban across all its platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp, the latter of which reportedly shut down a Taliban helpline in Kabul and several other Taliban accounts.
A Facebook spokesperson stated that the Taliban was sanctioned under US law as a terrorist organisation and they have been removed from our services by our Dangerous Organization policies. WhatsApp declined to speak on behalf of WhatsApp, however it stated that they were “obligated” to follow US sanctions laws. This includes banning accounts which appear to be official accounts for the Taliban.
YouTube stated that it would continue to “terminate Taliban accounts.” Twitter doesn’t ban Taliban accounts, but spokespersons for the company stated that its top priority was keeping people safe and they will continue to be vigilant.
“I believe that the Taliban don’t want internet bans at all. Ghori Ahmad stated that they don’t want YouTube out of Pakistan, they don’t want Google out. He also said they don’t want Twitter or Facebook to disappear.
If the Taliban is given official recognition by the international diplomatic community, the relationship with the technology platforms could become even more complex. This determination will depend in large part on the current form of the Afghan government.
Mehran stated that if the Taliban allow for an inclusive government and they… are a part, then they have, essentially for lack of better words, gained legitimacy in Afghanistan because other groups will be represented. It might prove difficult for YouTube and Facebook to keep the militant group from the platforms if that happens.
Online expression: Uncertain future
It is not what the Taliban says about the internet that will be the real test, it may actually be the Afghan people’s words.
Already, there has been an explosion of online dissent. Videos of protests in Kabul as well as footage of the conditions inside Afghanistan capital were shared on social media. If this dissent grows, however, it is possible for the Taliban to become even more determined about limiting internet access to the citizens they hope to govern.
The Taliban will use technology to promote its propaganda and PR purposes, “says Madiha Afzal. Madiha Afzal is a Brookings Institution fellow in the foreign policy program. Platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter will need to find a way to combat the Taliban propaganda while also trying to make sure that Afghans have access to the platforms, if they try to block it.
Experts say that the Taliban also insists online content must adhere to Islamic law. This could increase the challenges platforms are facing in continuing to operate in Afghanistan. Ghori Al-Ahmad stated that it would be difficult for many tech companies to find the right balance in this market.
There is also fear that Taliban might use social media to target Afghans who have worked for the US military or government.
Facebook last week introduced a one-click tool for its Afghan users to lock their profiles and is introducing pop-up alerts on Instagram in Afghanistan detailing how to protect one’s account, the company’s head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said in a series of tweets. Gleicher stated that they are working with their counterparts from industry, civil society, and government to offer whatever assistance we can to protect people.
Twitter has partnered with Internet Archive in order to respond to users’ requests to remove old tweets. Twitter also offers the possibility of suspending temporarily accounts to prevent Afghan users from accessing their accounts to delete material. LinkedIn stated that it had taken “temporary measures” to limit the visibility of its connections and help members understand how they could hide their profiles from the public eye.
Even though the Taliban tried to present a moderater image since taking back control of the country, it is unlikely that this will continue — especially after the US forces leave the country at month’s end. It is possible that Afghans will lose their ability to access social media and speak out after this.
Mehran stated, “If it is suppressed by Taliban and if they are not able to access that, that should tell the tech companies a lot about the Taliban.”
Publiated at Sun 29 August 2021, 17:03:49 (+0000).