The quick takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban represents a new challenge for the big US technology companies in handling content created by a group considered terrorist by some world governments.
Social media giant Facebook confirmed on Monday that it designates the Taliban as a terrorist group and bans it, as well as content that supports it on its platforms.
But Taliban members reportedly continued to use Facebook’s end-to-end encrypted messaging service, WhatsApp, to communicate directly with Afghans, despite the company’s banning it under rules against dangerous organizations.
A Facebook spokesman said the company is closely monitoring the situation in the country and that WhatsApp will take action on any account that is linked to sanctioned organizations in Afghanistan, which could include removing the account.
On Twitter, Taliban spokesmen with hundreds of thousands of followers tweeted updates during the country’s takeover.
Asked about the Taliban’s use of the platform, the company outlined its policies against violent organizations and hateful conduct, but did not respond to Reuters’ questions about how it ranks. Twitter’s rules say it doesn’t allow groups that promote terrorism or violence against civilians.
The Taliban’s return has raised fears that it will crack down on freedom of expression and human rights, especially women’s rights, and that the country could become a haven for global terrorism.
Taliban officials issued statements saying they wanted peaceful international relations and pledged to protect Afghans.
This year, leading social media companies have made important decisions about how to deal with world leaders and groups in power.
These include controversial blockades by former US President Donald Trump for inciting violence around the Jan. 6 Capitol rebellion and bans on Myanmar’s military in the midst of a coup in the country.
Facebook, which has long been criticized for failing to combat hate speech in Myanmar, said the coup increased the risks of offline harm and its record of human rights violations contributed to the banning of the ruling military or the Tatmadaw.
Businesses, which have been criticized by global lawmakers and regulators for their outsized political and economic influence, often rely on state designations or official international recognitions to determine who is allowed to enter their locations.
It also helps determine who can be verified, who can receive official state accounts, or can receive special treatment for rule-violating speech due to journalistic value or public interest gaps.
However, differences between the attitudes of technology companies suggest that the approach is not uniform.
Alphabet’s YouTube, asked whether it has a ban or restrictions on the Taliban, declined to comment, but said the video-sharing service relies on governments to define “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTO) to guide enforcement of its rules against violent criminal groups. .
YouTube pointed to the US State Department’s list of FTOs of which the Taliban is not a member. Instead, the US classifies the Taliban as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”, which freezes American assets from those on the blacklist and prevents Americans from working with them.
To complicate matters further, while most countries show little sign of recognizing the group diplomatically, the Taliban’s position on the world stage could still change as they cement control.
“The Taliban is in some ways an accepted player at the level of international relations,” said Mohammed Sinan Siyech, a security researcher in South Asia and a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh, pointing to conversations China and the United States had with the group. .
“If that recognition comes in, then for a company like Twitter or Facebook, making a subjective decision that this group is bad and that we won’t host them could cause complications.”
© Thomson Reuters 2021