Headlines are filled all across the globe with stories of Afghanistan, and feeds are filled with horrifying pictures and videos from people hanging onto planes to babies being carried across barbed wire. This happens as the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan, namely by storming the capital Kabul and prompting the president to leave the country. This is a return to the state of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban ruled the country under their dehumanizing version of Islamic law. Biden’s plan has garnered much attention, as he plans to keep going with the decision of removing US troops from the country, stating that it is primarily Afghanistan’s responsibility. This sentiment is echoed many times over, with opinions that Afghanistan does not want foreign interference and more. Given this context, we can now closely look into the Taliban’s use of social media in achieving their goals.
Social Media and Terrorism
Social media is one of the most deadly weapons that terrorists use to achieve their goal of striking fear into the hearts of masses. In the recent day and age, social media platforms are used for recruiting, communicating their plans, and spreading their ideology. Terrorist groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda have used social media to publish their activities on the Internet and recruit followers in the past. The IS has been the most active terrorist group on social media across several platforms with estimates of ~70000 Twitter accounts of active supporters. They often spread videos of beheadings and other brutal ongoings. Additionally, terrorist groups have used encryption and accessed the dark/deep web through Tor for their important communications and operations, indicating they have significant knowledge of the domain.
While the Taliban previously banned the internet when they previously controlled Afghanistan, they have now harnessed social media and incorporated it into their arsenal. They use thousands of Twitter accounts to spread reassuring messages to the citizens of Afghanistan in order to lull them into a false sense of calmness. While they have consistently been posting and spreading positive messages, their violence and brutality has not changed at all. Platforms such as Facebook and YouTube continue their attempts to block the group from spreading their messages, but the Taliban switches to a new account and penetrates the defense. While some groups in Afghanistan fight against the Taliban on the platforms, they are often quickly silenced and this sends a crystal clear message to anyone else thinking of doing the same.
The dire situation in Afghanistan is a difficult situation to maneuver, with the removal of US troops and other countries’ support. The Taliban has a clear, consistent message across its platforms of positive attitude in order to gain foreign legitimacy as it now has a country under its control. Social media platforms are trying to constantly ban and suspend pro-Taliban accounts but are being thwarted by the influx of new accounts. Mr.Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, stated that Facebook was promoting freedom of speech but censored the group’s messages when asked about freedom of speech. “This question should be asked of those who claim to be promoters of freedom of speech who do not allow publication of foreign information”.