The Taliban Is Silicon Valley’s New Big Problem

The Taliban Is Silicon Valley’s New Big Problem
Photo: AFP, Getty Images

The Taliban have swept through Afghanistan, re-taking the country from the feeble local government that America’s military has propped up for the better part of two decades.

As tumult has engulfed the nation, U.S. social media companies have rushed to respond to the situation. However, not all of them have established clear, transparent rules about how they will treat content and accounts related to the radical Islamist group — who now serve as the de facto political rulers of the country.

Apparently, TikTok has always banned the Taliban from its platform and recently told media outlets that said ban will continue.

Facebook, meanwhile, recently told CNBC that it has a “dedicated team of content moderators” that are focused on removing Taliban-related content from its platform. The group has long been listed under Facebook’s “Dangerous Individuals and Organisations,” designating it as a terrorist group, and that therefore its content is banned from the company’s platform.

However, Facebook-owned WhatsApp has garnered criticism after reports that the extremist group has been spotted using its platform to communicate and coordinate their activities. The messaging service, which uses end-to-end encryption, was reportedly deployed by Taliban members to send messages to the local Kabul population, notifying them of the city’s takeover, the Washington Post has reported.

Despite this, WhatsApp has said that it does not allow the Taliban to use its platform — and subsequently announced that it had shut down a community “help line” set up by the group after Kabul was taken over. When questioned by Motherboard on Monday over why it hadn’t yet blanket banned Taliban members, the company apparently responded that “as a private messaging service, we do not have access to the contents of people’s personal chats. However, if we become aware that a sanctioned individual or organisation may have a presence on WhatsApp we take action.” The company affirmed that if it finds sanctioned people or organisations — such as terrorist groups — using its platform, their accounts will be banned.

Other companies are also catching flak for not automatically banning or blocking the Taliban’s use of their platforms.

In particular, Google-owned YouTube initially declined to outwardly say whether it will ban the Taliban from its platform or not. When questioned by Reuters on the matter, the company first “declined to comment” but referred the outlet to its policy on foreign terrorist organisations (FTOs), the status of which would preclude it from representation on YouTube’s platform. However, the Taliban is not classified by the State Department as an FTO, but rather, is considered a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” a slightly different category. YouTube subsequently claimed that it would ban accounts that it believes may be owned by members of the Taliban. We emailed Google for clarification and will update this post when we hear back.

Twitter hasn’t yet announced a blanket ban and doesn’t seem to be super interested in doing so. In fact, you can still see very active, heavily followed accounts from apparent Taliban members, many of which have been live-tweeting the takeover of the country by their group. Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, for instance, has approximately 306k followers and last tweeted yesterday, the Washington Examiner recently pointed out.

“The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving,” a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC. “We’re also witnessing people in the country using Twitter to seek help and assistance. Twitter’s top priority is keeping people safe, and we remain vigilant.” We reached out to Twitter to clarify its position on this whole thing.

Not for nothing but former President Trump is permanently banned from Twitter. Right-wing trolls like Steve Bannon and Nick Fuentes have been banned. In the past, Courtney Love and Kanye West have both been temporarily suspended. The pirated academic-research blog Sci-Hub has even been permanently kicked off the platform. According to Twitter’s own standard, it would be somewhat ridiculous if the Taliban, an organisation with a concrete record of human rights atrocities, hadn’t yet reached a threshold for inappropriate content. But maybe they’re better at keeping their posts in check than Members of Congress.