Positive image: Taliban spread social media

Yana Rozhdestvenskaya

The Taliban movement is increasingly present in social networks and on the Internet. There the Taliban are trying to form a more positive image of the movement than the one that has developed now among the world community. Many social networks block such accounts, but due to the ambiguity of the existing rules on this account, not everyone does this.

PR in Taliban style

American experts decided to study how it happened that the Taliban, who condemned modern technology and banned the use of the Internet, changed their tactics and used social networks. Currently, supporters of the Taliban have accounts on a variety of social networks – Facebo-ok, Twitter and Instagram – as well as numerous chats in messengers such as WhatsApp and Telegram. In an interview with The Washington PostEmerson Brooking, a researcher at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Laboratory, said that the Taliban have been on Twitter since at least 2011, on Telegram since 2016, and since 2019, representatives of the movement have been actively using hashtags on social networks to spread their posts. “The Taliban have had a social media strategy for years, and the Taliban have used multiple platforms to spread their messages.

They react quickly to events – even faster than the Afghan government, ”said Tom Jocelyn, senior fellow at the US Democracy Defense Fund.

The Taliban are so adept at using social media that analysts say the conclusion is that in some cases they are clearly being consulted by PR companies. Experts note that the promotion of topics, their adaptation to the style of different sites, the creation of potentially viral videos and images are carried out according to the same patterns as many corporate PR campaigns. One such example, American experts consider a video in which armed Taliban in camouflage pose against a pink-blue sky, and the accompanying inscription in English and Pashto reads: “In an atmosphere of freedom.”

American experts are confident that the Taliban have specialists dedicated to promoting their ideology and creating a positive image of the movement on social networks. “Based on a lot of data, several accounts are run by people whose main job is likely to be social media,” says Darren Linville, a researc-her at the Center for Media Forensics at Clemson Univ-ersity. “These accounts are not run by Taliban leaders or fighters, but by people. who have continuous access to the Internet, both from a computer and from a portable device, and who know decent English. “

With Twitter at the ready

According to experts, although the number of smartphones in Afghanistan itself has grown significantly in recent years, and the mobile Internet has become quite widespread, such posts and videos are primarily aimed at an international audience – like Afghans living in other countries, or potential supporters of the Taliban »There, and on people who have a negative attitude towards the movement. So, the official website of the movement has versions in many languages – Pashto, Dari, Urdu, Arabic and English. “They have adapted very well to the Western ear and know how to play with journalists, they know what to say to make it sound attractive to the Western ear, and they know how to mislead,” says Mr. Jocelyn.

On social media, the Taliban are trying to fight with the negative image of their movement in the Western public consciousness. In recent months, observers have noted a surge of this kind of content on various social networks and instant messengers. During the terrorist offensive, they constantly broadcast information about this offensive, along with posts about the good life that awaits citizens under Taliban rule in the future.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shahin has a Twitter account with over 350,000 followers. In recent days, there have been many tweets proclaiming the peacefulness of the Taliban. Suhail Shahin wrote that the Mujahideen are prohibited from entering other people’s houses without permission, that the Taliban are not going to encroach on the “life, property and h-onor” of Afghans, that wo-men under the Taliban will be able to continue their st-udies and work. Other acc-ounts associated with the T-aliban regularly report that normal life continues in the country in general and in Kabul in particular since the arrival of the Taliban.

But there are also services designed for the local population – for example, the WhatsApp account, launched after the coming to power, of the “population support service”, in which you can report cases of violence, robbery, atta-cks, and so on. According to The Economist’s correspondent Daniel Knowles, who worked in Afghanistan, there were such accounts before. “When I first heard about this, they were not ‘support services’. It was rather like that – the local Taliban could be contacted on WhatsApp, and if you call, they can resolve conflicts and disputes, ”he says.

Smarter than Trump

The Taliban’s skillful use of social media makes it more difficult for tech companies to fight them. Some conservative observers have already wondered why the social networks that blocked the accounts of then US President Donald Trump are not so actively blocking accounts associated with the Taliban. The fact is that the Taliban almost never directly violate the rules and regulations adopted in these messengers and social networks. “The modern Talib-an are well versed in technology and social media — nothing like what the group was 20 years ago,” said Rita Katz, managing director of the SITE Intelligence Group, an organization that monitors extremist content on the Internet.

“The Taliban are clearly making it harder for social media in terms of their content policies, and are not crossing the clear lines of breaking such policies that Trump has crossed.”

At the same time, in her opinion, such content should be removed, as it “feeds the newly inspired and extremely dangerous global Islamist militant movement.”

Social networks are already taking action to combat the Taliban. On Tuesday, Facebook announced it was blocking accounts praising, supporting or representing the Taliban on its platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram. “The Taliban are under US sanctions as a terrorist organization, and we have blocked them from our services in accordance with our Dangerous Organizations Policy,” Facebook said.

The company also noted that a team of experts on Afghanistan who speak Pashto and Dari and understand local realities are engaged in tracking. Later it became known that WhatsApp blocked all accounts known to him associated with the Taliban terrorist movement, including the account of the “support service”.

YouTube also recently confirmed that it will continue to delete accounts “allegedly associated with the Afghan Taliban, owned and operated by the movement.”

At the same time, a number of social networks and instant messengers, including Twitter, have not yet blocked such accounts. In addition to the absence of direct violations of the platform’s rules, the point is that if the Pakistani Taliban is declared a foreign terrorist organization in the United States, the Afghan branch of the movement, although it is on the sanctions lists, does not have such an official designation.

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