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The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban poses new challenges for social media companies

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Taliban fighters show their flag on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, August 19, 2021 … [+] The Taliban celebrated Afghanistan’s Independence Day on Thursday by declaring they had defeated the United States, but challenges began to arise for their rule, ranging from managing a country with severe cash and bureaucrat shortages to possible armed opposition . (AP photo / Rahmat Gul)

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The Taliban have remained a kind of contradiction. The insurgents, who regained control of Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US and coalition troops last week, never really operated as a traditional army. It was able to defeat the far better equipped Afghan army, despite lacking the tanks, artillery and support infrastructure that most modern armed forces rely on.

At the same time, however, the Taliban have adopted some modern recruitment and propaganda technologies, and are using social media to get their message across. While acting as a rebel force against the recognized government, Facebook and other platforms had banned the group as it was sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law.

Now that it positions itself as the legitimate government in Afghanistan, the situation for the Taliban could be very different.

“Social media companies have to make decisions about the legitimacy of the Taliban,” said

Dr. William Pelfrey, Professor of Homeland Security and Criminal Justice at the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“All major social media organizations have guidelines regarding state actors and recognized representatives – elected or appointed – by governments,” added Pelfrey. “The Taliban are de facto the governing body of Afghanistan, but the legitimacy of taking power is questionable. A military leader who orchestrates a coup should not receive the same recognition or legitimacy as a properly elected leader. This is particularly complicated as some countries,” like China and Russia, have established formal relations with the Taliban. Many other countries, including the US State Department, view the Taliban as a terrorist organization. “

Taliban OK, Trump not so much

Some media outlets, and no shortage of social media users, have already determined that the Taliban could return to the platforms despite the silence of former President Donald Trump.

“It is still unclear what role platforms like Twitter and Facebook want to play in managing the information they are making it easier to disseminate,” said Jui Ramaprasad, professor in the Decision, Operations and Information Technologies department at the University of Robert H. Smith Maryland Business School.

“Although Facebook has set up the board of directors – the“ Facebook Supreme Court ”- and Twitter has become more active in blocking and even blocking accounts, e.g. “If Donald Trump were banned because of the potential for further incitement to violence, one would think that the Taliban would be too. But that is the result of the reluctance to adopt a clear, uniform and consistent policy and its implementation.”

Given these facts, social media companies may now need to make much clearer decisions about what can be published on the platforms and what should be removed.

“In fact, when it comes to implementation, it is not always easy to concisely outline what constitutes a violation of platform policy – e.g. Case base, “said Ramaprasad.

Hence, a clear line may need to be drawn, suggested Dr. Oscar Barroso Huertas, Professor at the Graduate School of Business at CETYS University, Mexico.

“Today, with open scientific honesty, it is generally accepted that the media usually take a position that helps to stir up a conflict or, on the contrary, to de-escalate it,” said Huertas. “Extremist groups of various types and origins have been using social networks for years as an instrument of ideological propaganda (political branding) and of course as a model for recruiting (acquiring) and controlling (retention) of their potential followers”, in traditionally non-Islamic countries (political marketing funnel ). “

Social responsibility towards social media?

Before much of Afghan military equipment – including Blackhawk helicopters and huge weapons caches – was confiscated, the Taliban were able to spread their message far and wide. Propaganda was a tool and social media was the delivery method.

“The impressive news dissemination ability used to distribute their content – they could generate up to 1,700 tweets in less than two hours – means Taliban groups an average of eight videos, four magazines and something, according to a study by Alto Analytics more than 50 press releases, “said Huertas.

At the same time, these platforms should take on the social responsibility of preventing the distribution of content that could endanger people’s lives.

“Social media has a responsibility to remove illegal, racist and dangerous submissions,” Pelfrey said. “Every contribution that incites violence against a certain population must be marked and deleted. While the Taliban have promised that they are no longer the same organization as they were twenty years ago, their actions must prove these claims.

“If they resume suppression of other religions and advocate violence directed against certain populations, social media organizations must adhere to existing guidelines and remove these posts and perhaps even ban Taliban people from participating,” added Pelfrey. “This is not uncommon; North Korea’s tyrant leader is not allowed on Facebook or Instagram. Even American political leaders, including a former president, have been banned from major social media organizations for inciting violence.”

To do this, social media companies may need to balance security with cultural norms.

“The Taliban will likely implement Sharia law in Afghanistan,” said Pelfrey. “Women are confronted with brutality and inequality. For example, a woman who has been sexually assaulted can be executed under Sharia law. Taliban leaders will argue that Sharia law is part of their religion and culture. Social media companies must reconcile safety and respect. ”For freedom of religion. The legitimation of violence in religious terms, especially in the context of Sharia law, does not correspond to Western cultures and norms, but can be compatible with the customs of some population groups. Finding that balance will test the moral compass of many social media organizations. . “

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