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How the Taliban uses social media to seek legitimacy

Since the takeover of Kabul, the eyes of the world are increasingly turning towards Afghanistan and… the social networks. Will the Taliban use Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube?

Eight months after banning Donald Trump’s account, how do the platforms plan to handle this explosive situation?

The Taliban seem to have taken to social networks. The extremist organisation’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, took to Twitter to announce the control of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan.

Since then, their communication on the social network continues to grow and attract many users. Roughly 330,000 subscribers have followed the Taliban spokesman’s Twitter account, created in April 2017.

The majority of their latest posts have exceeded a thousand “likes.” The tweet announcing the first press conference since the capture of the capital of Afghanistan reached almost 6,000 “likes.”

A surveillance on Twitter

While Twitter suspended Donald Trump from its platform at the beginning of 2021, the account claimed by the Taliban is still accessible as of August 20. The decision is being criticised on social networks by many users.

In its defence, Twitter reports that it is “closely monitoring” the situation, while emphasising that it remains vigilant about the types of publications that could violate their policies.

The social network prefers to insist on the usefulness of its platform for Afghans seeking help: “The situation in Afghanistan is changing rapidly. We are also seeing people in the country using Twitter to ask for help and assistance. Twitter’s top priority is to keep people safe, and we remain vigilant.

“We are taking steps to protect the voices of those on our service who represent protected groups, including aid workers, journalists, media, human rights activists, and others,” the Twitter spokesperson told us.

Twitter assures us that they pay particular attention to compliance with their moderation policies: “Our strong and dedicated teams provide 24/7 global coverage to proactively enforce our rules on a large scale and act quickly on content that violates Twitter’s rules, especially policies prohibiting glorification of violence, abusive behaviour, hateful conduct, violent threats, and gratuitous gore.

“We have prioritised tagging Tweets to provide context for people on the service who may see examples of erroneous or misleading content that violates our synthetic and manipulated media policy. Our enforcement approach is agile and we will remain transparent about our work as it continues to evolve to address these increasingly complex issues,” the Twitter spokesperson added.

Banned on Facebook, YouTube, and Google

At Facebook, the discourse is sharper. Recognised as a terrorist organisation by the American social network, accounts with a link to the Taliban will be deleted from the platform: “The Taliban have been recognised as a terrorist organisation under US law and we have banned them from our services under our policies on dangerous organisations.

“This means we are removing accounts run by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit any praise, support, or representation of them,” the Facebook spokesperson told us.

The social network also said it is working with a specialised team to better understand and identify potentially dangerous content: “We also have a dedicated team of Afghanistan experts who are native speakers of Dari and Pashto and know the local context, which helps identify and alert us to emerging issues on the platform.

“Our teams are closely monitoring this situation as it develops. Facebook does not make decisions about the recognised government in any particular country, but rather respects the authority of the international community in making those decisions. Regardless of who holds power, we will take appropriate action against accounts and content that violate our rules.”

It’s the same story at WhatsApp: “We are obligated to comply with US sanctions laws. This includes banning accounts that appear to pose as official Taliban accounts. We are seeking more information from the relevant US authorities given the evolving situation in Afghanistan,” the spokesperson said.

Both YouTube and Google have indicated that they have removed accounts “owned or operated” by the Taliban, while reiterating their policy against violent and extremist content: “All content on YouTube is subject to our terms of use and community rules. YouTube abides by all applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws, including applicable US sanctions.

“As such, if we find an account that is allegedly owned and operated by the Afghan Taliban, we will terminate it. In addition, our policies prohibit content that incites violence,” the YouTube spokesperson reiterated.

“We will terminate Google accounts believed to be owned or operated by the Taliban in accordance with all applicable sanctions and business compliance laws. In addition, we have long-standing policies prohibiting content that promotes violent extremism, including recruitment, promotion of terrorist acts, and incitement to violence,” the Google spokesperson added.

When asked about the number of accounts or groups already removed linked to the Taliban, no social network provided exact figures.

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