As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, numerous accounts claiming to be affiliated with the organization posted updates on Twitter. Given that Taliban-affiliated accounts have long been banned from Facebook and YouTube, many online criticized Twitter for banning former U.S. President Donald Trump but not these accounts.
Trump had been banned from the social media platform since January 2021 due to “the risk of further incitement of violence” during the riots on Capitol Hill.
One particular account, claiming to be the “Official Twitter Account of the Spokesman of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid” (referring to the unrecognized Taliban-run state), has more than 337,000 followers and has been posting updates saying it wants good trade and diplomatic relations with other countries, and announced the Taliban’s first news conference in August.
Another account claiming to be associated with Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman for international media in Qatar, has been posting tweets assuring diplomats, workers for charities, and consulate employees that “a secure environment would be provided for them.”
We assure all diplomats, embassies, consulates, and charitable workers, whether they are international or national that not only no problem will be created for them on the part of IEA but a secure environment will be provided to them, Inshallah.
— Suhail Shaheen. محمد سهیل شاهین (@suhailshaheen1) August 16, 2021
We reached out to Twitter, but it did not respond to our queries about the reasoning behind the continued functioning of the above accounts. According to a Twitter spokesperson:
The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving. 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 are taking steps to safeguard the voices of those on our service who represent protected groups including, humanitarian workers, journalists, news media organisations, human rights activists, and others.
Our strong and dedicated teams are providing 24/7 global coverage to proactively enforce our rules at scale and swiftly actioning content that violates the Twitter Rules, specifically policies prohibiting glorification of violence, abusive behaviour, hateful conduct, wishes of harm, and gratuitous gore. We have prioritized labeling Tweets to provide context to people on the service who may be seeing examples of misleading or deceptive content that violates our synthetic and manipulated media policy. Our enforcement approach is agile and we will remain transparent about our work as it continues to evolve to address these increasingly complex issues.
In sum, Twitter appears to have allowed the Taliban-affiliated accounts to remain online for now, but says it will enforce policies that prohibit the “glorification of violence, abusive behaviour” and more. Facebook had, however, officially banned the Taliban from operating on its pages, even though affiliated or supportive accounts keep popping up.
It is true that Trump is still banned on the platform for violating the above policies. Presently, according to a New York Times report, various accounts claiming to be connected to the Taliban have largely shared information that does not glorify or espouse violence and hate speech. Even a new Twitter account claiming to be the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” that posted videos of purported Taliban military maneuvers did not feature graphic, violent imagery.
This appears to be part of a sophisticated pattern of propaganda to convince the world that the Taliban has evolved into a softer organization. But reports on the ground, involving Taliban violently dispersing protests and stopping women news anchors from appearing on state television, suggest otherwise.
We thus rate this claim as “True.” We will update this post if Twitter or other social media platforms change their approach on this evolving story.