Taliban attacks Facebook over freedom of speech concerns

Question about freedom of speech ‘should be asked of those ... who do not allow publication of foreign information and news,’ Taliban spokesman says

Gustaf Kilander,Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 17 August 2021 22:02 BST

Related video: Afghanistan will no longer cultivate opium, Taliban spokesman says

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A spokesman for the Taliban in Afghanistan attacked Facebook over freedom of speech concerns when asked about the topic during a press conference, despite the militant group’s repressive policies towards women and girls.

“This question should be asked of those who claim to be promoters of freedom of speech who do not allow publication of foreign information and news. I can ask Facebook – this question should be asked of them,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday.

Facebook has said that it has banned content supporting the Taliban on all of the company’s platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp, since it is a terrorist organisation according to US law. Non-US news outlets are not banned from Facebook’s platforms.

The tech giant’s move comes as the Taliban captured Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Sunday and declared the country an “Islamic Emirate” after president Ashraf Ghani abandoned the presidential palace and fled the country.

The capital’s takeover followed after the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan at the order of President Joe Biden, almost 20 years after the start of George W Bush’s War on Terror in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

While Facebook does not make decisions regarding the recognition of governments, it said it “respects the authority of the international community”.

“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organisation under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies,” a company spokesperson told The Independent, adding that they were enacted more than 10 years ago, and are constantly updated to keep pace with changing online behaviours.

“The Taliban has been designated by Facebook for years, long before events in recent months,” the spokesperson added.

Facebook also noted that a dedicated team of Afghanistan experts, who are native Dari and Pashto speakers and have knowledge of the local context, are helping the company identify emerging issues on the platform.

The tech giant said the new policy comes into effect across all its platforms including Instagram and WhatsApp.

“We remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them,” the Facebook company spokesperson said.

“Regardless of who holds power, we will take the appropriate action against accounts and content that breaks our rules,” they added.

Meanwhile, Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, reportedly said it relies on governments to define “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTO) to guide the video-sharing platform’s enforcement of its rules against violent criminal groups.

YouTube pointed to the US State Department’s list of FTO’s of which the Taliban is not a member, but is instead included on the “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” list, Reuters reported.

University of Edinburgh researcher Mohammed Sinan Siyech told the news agency that “the Taliban is somewhat an accepted player at an international relations level,” citing talks between the group and world powers such as the US and China. “If that recognition comes in, then for a company like Twitter or Facebook to make a subjective decision that this group is bad and we will not host them poses complications.”

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has an unverified account on Twitter with 347,000 followers. According to CNN, a Twitter spokesperson said Afghans are using the platform to look for help but added that the company would “remain vigilant” in enforcement of its policies such as banning content glorifying violence.

The takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban raises fears that the militant outfit would crackdown on freedom of speech and human rights – especially the right of women and girls.

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