The Taliban are using social media to rule Afghanistan
The Taliban, who had banned the internet the first time they took control of Afghanistan, have turned social media into a very effective tool for taming the opposition and spreading their messages. Now that they have firmly taken control of the country, they are using thousands of accounts, some official and others anonymous, to allay the fears of the terrified but increasingly technologized urban population.
For example, a video shows a Taliban official reassuring health worker by telling them they will not be fired on Twitter. Some militants tell Sikhs, a minority religious group, that the regime will guarantee them freedom and protection. Still, other videos try to imply that legality is now being enforced in Kabul, showing Taliban militiamen with guns in hand, keeping thieves and looters at bay.
The images of peace projected by the new regime contrast sharply with the scenes that have traveled around the world, those of the chaotic US evacuation from Kabul airport or the images of beatings and shooting at protesters. They demonstrate the digital skills that Islamic militants have refined over years of guerrilla warfare. You can imagine the use they could make of these tools to rule Afghanistan without compromising their religious precepts and their propensity for violence.
Afghan social media is probably not a good indicator of public opinion, as many of the opponents of the Taliban and supporters of the US-backed government have gone underground. Still, the Taliban have already demonstrated a social campaign in the country. the last few weeks probably helped push the Afghan security forces’ military to lay down their arms to sell their message effectively. “They understood that to win the war, they had to field stories and narratives,” says Thomas Johnson, a professor at the US Navy Graduate School in Monterey, California. “In urban areas, all Afghans have a smartphone, and this tool will prove very useful. They will use social media to tell Afghans what to do.”
On the internet, Koranic students will have to face, at least in part, the same tactics they used to cement their power, as has happened with movements such as the Arab Spring and others, which used social media to organize and call demonstrations. On the other hand, the new restrictions on communications between Afghanistan and the rest of the world will help opponents of the Taliban to denounce any atrocities and build consensus for resistance. Hashtags like #DoNotChangeNationalFlag are already spreading, with support coming from both inside and outside.
The Taliban responded to these calls for mobilization and reports of repression and reprisals by the victorious militiamen, with messages that underline the desire for peace and unity. Quranic students portray Americans and other foreigners as the root cause of years of conflict, a concept they have emphasized using disturbing images of Kabul airport over the past week. As photos of desperate refugees clinging to planes began to circulate, one of the most famous pro-Taliban influencers, Qari Said Khosty, took on a tone of hurt solidarity.
The Taliban can post almost anything they want online. While the blocks on major social platforms like Facebook and YouTube persist, dozens of new accounts have sprung up. The militia’s efforts focused on Twitter, where the extremist organization was not directly banned. Some opponents of the new regime have called for mobilization, while others have remained silent and cleared their accounts of materials that could endanger them.
A footballer this week warned her former teammates to remove the photos. Facebook and Twitter have announced they are taking steps to secure accounts. In recent weeks, to legitimize themselves abroad, the Taliban have spread English messages and broadcast press conferences in streaming. Their official website, Al-Emarah, publishes in English, Pashto, Dari, Urdu, and Arabic.