Information Warfare: Taliban Weaponizes Social Media

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July 27, 2022: As the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, they used thousands of American social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter) accounts to spread disinformation about their activities to people in Moslem as well as Western countries. This went largely unnoticed until recent studies of the use and impact of censorship or “moderation” by American social media revealed that over 80 percent of the money special media spend on moderation concentrates on the less than ten percent of English-speaking users in North America. The rest of the world is largely moderation free and users are able to say whatever they want.

Islamic terrorists and especially the Taliban take advantage of this. Before the Taliban made their move to take control of Afghanistan, the U.S. announced in April 2021 that all American forces would be out of Afghanistan by the end of August. Previous plans included leaving a small force in Afghanistan, along with economic aid to keep the Afghan government and security forces going. This change of American plans enabled the Taliban to implement an Information War campaign via the largely unmoderated (outside the United States) Internet social media.

At that point the Taliban had a few dozen social media accounts, mainly Facebook, that put out official announcements on real or imaginary Taliban activity and over 20,000 Taliban supporters, most of them in Afghanistan and other Moslem nations, took the Taliban version of things and amplified it. The American social media companies did shut down some of these Taliban-run accounts but new ones were ready to replace the lost (“unjustly censored by infidels”) accounts and continue the jihad (struggle against enemies of Islam). Internet jihad was popular with young Moslems everywhere because they could all participate without fear of physical retribution or death.

By mid-2021 the Taliban Internet Jihad had attracted nearly over 50,000 more followers and that number swelled to over 100,000 by the time the Taliban entered Kabul in mid-August and declared themselves in control of the country. During that growth period the Taliban used their social media presence to solicit monetary and other contributions, including volunteers who would come to Afghanistan and work for the new Taliban government. That last Americans flew out of Kabul airport at the end of August and the Taliban declared they controlled the entire country. They didn’t, and still don’t but reality takes a while to catch up with social media hype. That could be seen by the rapidly declining number of social media followers. Those who had gone to Afghanistan soon reported that all was not as the Taliban said it was. The volunteers left and made their reports after they were out of Afghanistan because to make such comments while in Afghanistan could get you killed.

Afghanistan is now an economic and political mess. There is hardly any foreign aid, but there is still plenty of fighting and anger against Taliban efforts to impose conservative Islamic lifestyle rules on Afghans who had been largely free of that form of oppression for two decades.

 


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