At a weekly press conference Wednesday morning, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized social media giants like Twitter and Facebook for allowing content from the Taliban terrorist organization on their platforms.
An audience member asked about this situation in the midst of reports that videos of women being beaten by Taliban terrorists were being shared on the platform. This comes as the group, once a minor insurgency in Afghanistan, moves to take complete control of the government and people of the nation in the wake of the controversial U.S. withdrawal from the country.
Pelosi began by saying that she was “concerned about offensive content on the platforms even beyond Afghanistan.”
She has long held similar concerns. During Donald Trump’s presidency, Pelosi asserted in a press release that the problem with social media companies was not, as Trump had asserted, that they used their platforms to censor certain political viewpoints; Rather, Pelosi criticized “big Internet companies’ complete failure to fight the spread of disinformation.”
Wednesday, she encouraged social media companies to respond to Taliban content as being “highly dangerous [and] immediate in its impact.” She continued, “I would hope that they would react in a responsible way.” To achieve this responsible reaction, she said, “we have to call [social media firms] out on it.”
The speaker then shared her own experiences in the now terrorist-run country, emphasizing the plight of women and girls now that the Taliban have taken over, and the need for such content to be barred from social media platforms.
Pelosi said that she had been a total of nine times. While there, she said, she and other lawmakers had had two primary concerns. The first of these was meeting with and thanking U.S. troops in the country “as a matter of national security.” She continued: “But we always, always, always had as another priority what was happening with women and girls in Afghanistan. That was bipartisan, it was bicameral … it was [the] White House as well as Congress.”
In the wake of the takeover of the country by the Taliban, Pelosi shared concerns about the wellbeing of girls in the country. She said that “It’s been 20 years [that the U.S. has had a presence in the country] … so some of these young women have not known another life than [one where] they could go to school.”
Pelosi concluded, “We will shine a very bright light of transparency on what’s happening there for girls.”
‘A Double-edged Sword’
She then brought the discussion back to online platforms allowing Taliban content. “Social media is a double-edged sword,” she began, explaining, “it has great things in terms of communication and the rest.” But, she continued, “it has enabled people like the QAnon to find each other and go to two million people—thank you Facebook.”
QAnon is an online community of people who believe that people within the state and intelligence community, which they call the “deep state,” are working against the interests of common people and that Trump was leading a faction during his presidency to combat these groups.
In 2020, after harsh criticism of the group, Twitter purged QAnon content on the platform. After this controversy, Pelosi said, social media companies “should know better when it comes to what’s happening in Afghanistan.”
Pelosi’s comments add to a chorus of partisan debates over the role that social media companies should play in policing discourse on their platforms.
One prominent criticism came in a letter (pdf) sent to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).
Lamborn began by “express[ing] concerns over the double standards and potential bias [of] Twitter’s speech standards.” He cited as an example of these double standards the company’s move to ban the then-president from the platform on Jan. 8 but then allowing the Taliban spokesmen to operate on the platform.
He also criticized the company for not “fact checking” these Taliban spokesmen, a common practice during the Trump presidency. “In my review of these accounts,” Lamborn writes, “I did not find a single fact check on any of their tweets, nor any warning for false or misleading content.”
Lamborn concluded: “It is clear that Twitter has political bias in its algorithms and a troubling double standard. I look forward to a prompt reply on why a former United States President is banned while two Taliban spokesmen are allowed to remain.”