The Taliban* captured Afghanistan’s capital on Sunday and proclaimed their return to power shortly after America’s troops started to leave the country, marking the end of their 20-year-long military engagement.
The Washington Post’s new article deliberating – and even hailing – the Taliban’s “strikingly sophisticated” social media tactics has been causing fury online as readers condemned the paper for “playing nice with terrorists”.
The piece published on Wednesday cited analysts in claiming that the Taliban was probably getting advice from at least one PR firm to bring their messages across platforms with a very “high degree of skill”.
“In accounts swelling across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — and in group chats on apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram — the messaging from Taliban supporters typically challenges the West’s dominant image of the group as intolerant, vicious and bent on revenge, while staying within the evolving boundaries of taste and content that tech companies use to police user behaviour,” journalists wrote, raising many eyebrows.
As such, they cited example of Taliban’s propaganda videos and the group’s “spokesman” Suhail Shaheen, who has kept a wide presence on Twitter, with over 366,000 followers, to provide updates about the movement’s advances.
But more shocking for some readers was the article’s explanation as to why the Taliban has remained alive on Twitter unlike former US president Donald Trump, who lost his social media accounts this year following accusations that he had sparked violence which resulted in the Capitol Hill storming on 6 January:
“…US conservatives have been demanding to know why former president Donald Trump has been banned from Twitter while various Taliban figures have not,” the article claims. “The answer, analysts said, may simply be that Trump’s posts for years challenged platform rules against hate speech and inciting violence. Today’s Taliban, by and large, does not.”
This remark and vivid applause for the Taliban’s recent “broader charm offensive” has left many social media users fuming.
“Not that I care to see Trump tweet anything – but this defence of allowing the freaking Taliban post by the #WashingtonPost is nuts,” one user raged.
“You’re kidding me, right? No wonder people are losing faith in journalism,” another one commented on the piece, adding a facepalm emoji.
>high degree of skill
Journalists are also impressed with shiny objects https://t.co/ugTYRQY6Gr
— G-1 清照 (✞) (@awooooowa) August 18, 2021
An article in WaPo explaining why Trump is banned from social media and the Taliban isn’t, argues that the Taliban follows the rules and is “A movement rooted in traditional moral codes” and I’m sorry but everybody has lost their bloody minds.
— Joanne Mason (@JoanneMason11) August 18, 2021
You’re kidding me, right? No wonder people are losing faith in journalism 🤦🏼♂️ https://t.co/x3cpxsaNg2
— Michael Covil ⚾️ (@michaelcovil_) August 18, 2021
— Ellie the Typo Queen (@ronile999) August 18, 2021
Despite Facebook’s alleged tolerance towards pro-Taliban accounts, the service’s spokesperson maintained in a BBC interview that the group’s content will continue to be banned across its platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp.
“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organisation under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organisation policies. This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them,” the spokesperson said.
To follow up on its commitment, Facebook has recently taken action against the “dangerous organisation” by closing down a WhatsApp hotline set up by the Taliban to help Afghans report the incidents of looting and violence in the country following the takeover. This action has still prompted more questions than answers from locals, who argued that the channel was actually helping the new rulers to govern the country that has seen a collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government, as the exiled president fled Afghanistan on Sunday following the Taliban’s arrival in Kabul.