Facebook Continues Ban on Taliban Content; Twitter Permits Spokesmen Accounts

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
August 18, 2021 Updated: August 18, 2021

Facebook says it will maintain its ban of pro-Taliban content under “U.S. law” and that it has been blocking WhatsApp accounts linked to the terrorist group, after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15.

“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under U.S. law, and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies,” a Facebook spokesperson told several media outlets.

Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, employs a “dedicated team of Afghanistan experts who are native Dari and Pashto speakers and have knowledge of local context, helping to identify and alert us to emerging issues on the platform,” according to the spokesperson.

“Our teams are closely monitoring this situation as it evolves. Facebook does not make decisions about the recognized government in any particular country, but instead respects the authority of the international community in making these determinations. Regardless of who holds power, we will take the appropriate action against accounts and content that breaks our rules,” the spokesperson added.

The announcement comes as social media companies face scrutiny about how they would handle the terrorist group that has quickly gained control of Afghanistan.

Facebook and WhatsApp
The icons of Facebook and WhatsApp are pictured on an iPhone in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, on Nov. 15, 2018. (Martin Meissner/AP Photo)

The Washington Post reported on Aug. 15 that Taliban members were contacting Kabul residents using WhatsApp, an encrypted messaging app.

Meanwhile, a Taliban spokesman accused Facebook of censorship at an Aug. 17 press briefing.

Google’s YouTube said on Aug. 15 that it has a long-held policy of not allowing accounts believed to be operated by the Taliban on its site.

However, social media platform Twitter is facing backlash after users highlighted that Zabihullah Mujahid, an official Taliban spokesman, regularly posts updates about the group’s activities on his Twitter account, while former President Donald Trump’s account remains permanently suspended following the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol building.

Mujahid has more than 315,000 followers on the platform, while another spokesman for the terrorist group, Qari Yousaf Ahmadi, has more than 64,000 followers.

Twitter, in a statement to Mediaite, didn’t say whether it would remove the accounts of the spokesmen from the platform, but said it would “continue to proactively enforce” its rules prohibiting the “glorification of violence, platform manipulation, and spam.”

“Twitter’s top priority is keeping people safe, and we remain vigilant,” the statement reads.

A Republican member of Congress questioned Twitter’s decision to allow spokesmen for the Taliban to remain on the platform, but continue to enforce its ban on Trump.

“Why on God’s green Earth does the Taliban spokesman have an active Twitter account but not the former President of the United States?” Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter on Aug. 15. “Whose side is the AMERICA BASED Big-Tech companies on?”

Criticism over the matter also came from outside of the United States.

“Freedom and democracy are not doing well when #Twitter continues to ban #Trump’s account but relays the #Taliban spokesperson’s without any second thoughts,”  Jérôme Rivière, a member of the European Parliament representing France’s right-wing National Rally party, wrote on Twitter.

Twitter officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.