August 16 (Reuters) – The Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan poses a new challenge for major US tech companies in handling content created by a group that is considered by some world governments to be terrorists.
The social media giant Facebook confirmed on Monday that it designates the Taliban as a terrorist group and bans it and content that supports it from its platforms.
But Taliban members reportedly continue to use Facebook’s end-to-end encrypted messaging service WhatsApp to communicate directly with Afghans despite the company banning it under rules against dangerous organizations.
A spokesman for Facebook Inc (FB.O) said the company is closely monitoring the situation in the country and that WhatsApp would take action against any account found linked to sanctioned organizations in Afghanistan, which could include the removal of accounts.
On Twitter Inc (TWTR.N), Taliban spokesmen with hundreds of thousands of followers have tweeted updates during the country’s takeover.
Asked about the Taliban’s use of the platform, the company pointed to its policy against violent organizations and hateful behavior, but did not answer Reuters’ questions about how it ranks its ratings. Twitter’s rules say it does not allow groups that promote terrorism or violence against civilians.
The return of the Taliban has created fears that it will crack down on freedom of expression and human rights, especially women’s rights, and that the country could once again become a haven for global terrorism. Read more
Taliban officials have issued statements that they want peaceful international relations and have promised to protect Afghans.
This year, major social media companies made high-profile decisions about dealing with incumbent world leaders and groups of those in power.
These include controversial blocs of former US President Donald Trump for inciting riots in connection with riots in the Capitol on January 6 and bans on Myanmar’s military amid a coup in the country.
Facebook, which has long been criticized for not fighting hate speech in Myanmar, said the coup escalated the risk of offline harm and its history of human rights violations contributed to the ban on the ruling military or Tatmadaw.
Companies that have been shelled by global lawmakers and regulators for their excessive political and economic influence often rely on state designations or official international recognitions to determine who is licensing their sites.
These also help determine who can be verified, allowed official government accounts, or may receive special treatment for irregular speech due to news values or loopholes in the public interest.
However, the differences between the attitudes of tech companies suggest that the approach is not uniform.
Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) YouTube, asked if it has a ban or restrictions on the Taliban, declined to comment, but said the video-sharing service relies on governments to define “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” (FTO) to guide the site’s enforcement of its rules against violent criminal groups.
YouTube pointed to the US State Department’s list of FTOs of which the Taliban is not a member. The United States instead classifies the Taliban as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” which freezes U.S. assets for the blacklisted and prevents Americans from working with them.
Complicating matters further, although most countries show few signs that they will recognize the group diplomatically, the Taliban’s position on the world stage may still change as they cement control.
“The Taliban is a bit of an accepted player at the international level,” said Mohammed Sinan Siyech, a security researcher in South Asia and a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, pointing to talks China and the United States have had with the group. Read more
“If that recognition comes in, a company like Twitter or Facebook will make a subjective decision that this group is bad and we will not host them, leading to complications.”
Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in London and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington DC; Edited by Kenneth Li and Sam Holmes
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