While Facebook and Twitter are already struggling to handle vaccine misinformation and extremism, there's an increased focus on how social networks are handling Taliban-related content, following America's sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan. The militant group has swiftly overtaken Afghanistan's civilian government, taking control of the capital Kabul in only a few days, far sooner than intelligence analysts expected. Just like every modern organization, the Taliban relies heavily on social media to spread its messaging and communicate with followers, which puts the onus on technology companies to secure their platforms.
“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them." They went on to note that the company will be following the situation closely with the help of native Dari and Pashto speakers, who serve as local experts. Facebook isn't making any additions to its existing policies, which cover its core app, Instagram and WhatsApp, but it's clear that it's making the Taliban's uprising a priority.
Still, that statement doesn't mean much if Facebook can't actually see what's happening on its platforms. Vice reports that the Taliban has been spreading its message on WhatsApp, which uses end-to-end encryption to secure conversations. The company could technically ban specific accounts, but it won't be able to easily search and remove content like it can on Facebook proper and Instagram.
Twitter, meanwhile, wouldn't say if it would ban notable Taliban accounts like spokesperson Suhail Shaheen's. CNN reported yesterday that he had 347,000 followers on the platform, but now he's amassed over 361,000, a clear sign of growing influence. Twitter noted that people were using its service to seek help in Afghanistan, and that it would continue to enforce its existing rules around things like the glorification of violence and hateful conduct. The company also introduced the ability to report misleading tweets yesterday.
While Twitter is shying away from any definitive stances against the Taliban, a spokesperson noted: "Our enforcement approach is agile and we will remain transparent about our work as it continues to evolve to address these increasingly complex issues." Basically, the rules could change at any moment.
YouTube is taking a stronger stance, telling CNN that it would be terminating accounts run by the Afghan Taliban because the group appears on the US Treasury Department's sanctions list.
Moving forward, it's unclear how social media companies will recognize the Taliban as it takes control of Afghanistan. As the Washington Post reports, it's up to social media firms to determine who maintains official state accounts like the Afghanistan President's Twitter, which now has over 926,000 followers.