The Taliban and the Duel of Hashtags on Twitter

In the last two decades, the Taliban organized major attacks against the former republic and the people of Afghanistan. Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed and hundreds of thousands of others were injured in these attacks. Organizing these attacks was a part of the operation and informing about it was another part.

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, as it faced the people and the world with many challenges, has also confused the big media outlets and companies.

So far, Facebook and YouTube have said that based on the sanctions policies of the United States of America, the Taliban are prohibited from using these platforms. But in the meantime, Twitter has said that it does not ban the members of this group, however, it will notice every message of this group and will remove the violent ones.

Twitter has its own unique space in the world of many social media. The limitation of words and the presence of people, with prominent legal personalities in this platform, are among its prominent indicators. It is difficult to find an audience in the realm of Twitter, but Taliban-affiliated twitter users have overcome this difficulty. Twitter has many users among Taliban members because of its relatively open space and fewer restrictions on publishing content, photos and videos. These people often use Twitter’s chatrooms (spaces) to promote their ideas.

Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman of the Taliban, has 659,000 followers and is the first among the Taliban’s spokespersons and members. He is the brain of Taliban media, which appeared on the scene for the first time after the fall of Kabul. Before that, the media and reporters were only familiar with his voice. Mohammad Naeem Wardak, the spokesperson of this group’s political office in Qatar, is also behind Mujahid with 410,000 followers.

Anas Haqqani is one of the prominent figures of the Taliban regime, who has an audience of 380,000 and is known as a popular person among the members of this group. This young member of the Haqqani network was sentenced to death after being arrested in 2014, but the Haqqani network kidnapped two American university professors, Kevin King and Timothy Weeks, two years after the arrest of Anas Haqqani. Anas Haqqani was then released in exchange for these two professors. Haqqani has posted a poem of his own in the discription of his Twitter account.

Other prominent members of the Taliban, including Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, and Mullah Yaqoob Mujahid, the son of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, have pages managed by their supporters, each with thousands of followers.

Until last year, Taliban members appeared on Twitter using pictures of their leaders and nicknames, but after the fall of Kabul, they are gradually using their pictures on these accounts.

Faiz Zaland, a university professor and one of the figures close to the Taliban, has about 292,000 followers on Twitter. Another user named Ahmad Zubair, a pseudonym, has about 17,000 followers. Shafat Raihan with 94,600, Ibn Mubarak Ahmadzai with 32,500 and Islamyar Zadran with 53,600 are other Taliban members who publish contents daily in support of this group. Abu Shabal with 35,900 and Jahid Jalal with 84,300 followers are among the users on Twitter who have introduced themselves as Taliban sympathizers and members.

The skillful use of Twitter is remarkable for a group that fought against modernism for years, and there are many documents of their enmity even with electronic devices and mass communication, including television.

Training Courses in Pakistan

Emerson Brooking, one of the authors of the book “The War of Likes: The Weaponization of Social Networks” says that the Taliban’s use of information networks to achieve their goals  is not new; “Even in the first years of the defeat and escape of the Taliban from the American forces, this group presented their propaganda messages through blog posts. He says that by 2011, the Taliban were active on Twitter and by 2014 on Telegram, and by 2019, the Taliban had learned to take over hashtags.

Darren Linvill, one of Clemson University’s experts on the Taliban’s access and use of Twitter, says that the active user accounts are not run by ordinary people, “These accounts are not run by Taliban leaders or fighters; Rather, they are run by people who have uninterrupted access to the Internet, both through computers and handheld devices, and who also have good English language skills.” According to him, these skills became more complicated in the years before Afghanistan fell to the hands of the Taliban.

One of the Taliban members told Hasht-e Subh that most of their people on social media, especially on Twitter, have learned short-term courses of using this network in Pakistan. This person, who also uses Twitter regularly, says that although their leaders are more interested in Facebook than Twitter, the Taliban prefer this network.

He, who has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter for five years, says that in the months before the fall of Afghanistan, a new department of social media users was added to the Taliban military organization. He points out that in addition to creating narratives of Taliban victories, this new formation was obliged to identify those who opposed them. This Taliban member used to use Facebook at first, but according to him, after he published the picture of one of their commanders being killed, his account was blocked and then he completely switched to Twitter.

Peter Singer, an American scientist and war expert, says that now these groups have learned to use a new weapon: hashtags! He adds that these groups have realized, now the world is able to see their smallest actions, “and you can’t hide anything. So you have to accept the reality and use social media to turn your message into an inclusive coverage.”

Battle of Hashtags

In the latest case, Facebook blocked the pages of “Afghan National Television” and “Bakhtar” news agency, which operate under the control of the Taliban. After this action of Facebook, the Taliban demanded the closure of this social network in Afghanistan. One of Facebook’s spokespersons says that according to American laws, this company considers the Taliban a “terrorist organization” and has banned the publication of any content by this group or in support of it on this social network. According to him, a team of Afghan experts is tasked with monitoring and removing content related to the Taliban on Facebook. Facebook says the company does not make decisions about recognizing governments. Rather, it follows the “reference of the international community”.

After the closure of the Taliban media pages on Facebook, users started a campaign on Twitter asking the network to block the accounts of the Taliban on this platform as well. Users with the hashtag “#BanTaliban” say that the Taliban’s hand from Twitter should be shortened. The Taliban, on the other hand, created a new hashtag with the content of the Afghan people’s support for the Taliban. These two campaigns were actually two completely different fronts of support and opposition against the Taliban that were formed.

Mahmoud Ahmad, a student and researcher of social media technology at the University of Utah, USA, while talking to Hasht-e Subh, says that the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has confused all mass communication companies. According to him, so far these companies have faced various cases such as coups, “but for a sanctioned terrorist group to take control of a country is a new challenge.”

Mr. Ahmad says that Facebook and YouTube are waiting for the future of this group in Afghanistan by using American laws, but Twitter’s soft stance toward the Taliban shows that this group is lobbying even at the level of the world’s largest companies. According to him, since the fall of Afghanistan to the hands of the Taliban was more of a conspiracy than a military defeat, Twitter’s action could also be organized.

This researcher explains that the Taliban once hosted Osama bin Laden and recently hosted Ayman al-Zawahiri in the heart of Kabul.

However, the Taliban have tried to show their popularity among the people to the world by using Twitter. For this reason, more efforts are made to publish contents in English. As this group is still facing movements in Afghanistan and causing daily casualties, it is also involved in the virtual world and has only been able to establish itself on Twitter.

B. Rasoli, Hasht-e Subh Persian

The post The Taliban and the Duel of Hashtags on Twitter appeared first on Hasht-e Subh Daily.

Source: Hasht-e Subh Daily

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