Taliban Creates A New Content Moderation Challenge For Social Media
from the but-what's-their-opinion-on-section-230 dept
The news out of Afghanistan is distressing on many levels, and it’s bizarre to think that there’s a Techdirt relevant story there, but (unfortunately) it seems like every story these days has some element of content moderation questions baked in. As the Taliban took over the country, it seems that they had a bone to pick… with Facebook. Facebook has banned the Taliban for a while, and has said that it will continue to do so, even as it takes over running the country of Afghanistan. And, the Taliban seem… pretty upset about it.
THE TALIBAN SPOKESMAN, Zabihullah Mujahid, emerged from the shadows on Tuesday and devoted part of his first press conference to a rant about Facebook, in which he accused the tech giant of violating the Islamist group?s right to free speech by banning them from all its platforms….
Journalists, Mujahid suggested, should ask people at Facebook ?who are claiming to be promoters of freedom of speech,? why the Islamist movement that seized power from Afghanistan?s elected government is banned from posting on any Facebook-owned platform, including Instagram and WhatsApp.
Yeah, so, I didn’t think I’d be lecturing the Taliban on how freedom of speech works, but this is not that. Of course, the Taliban is not exactly associated with supporting a “right to free speech,” so this is already bizarre. But, more to the point, as we’ve addressed at length, no private company owes anyone the right to use their website. That’s just not how it works.
That said, it is interesting to see just how the various social media platforms are now struggling with the question of how to deal with the Taliban wanting to use their platform. Even if they were banned before for being a terrorist group, does that change when they’re the running the country?
So far, Facebook and YouTube have said that the Taliban are banned from their platforms, per US sanctions policies. Twitter does not have a ban but told Recode that it takes down individual pieces of violent content. Eventually, though, more social media companies could start relaxing their rules on the Taliban, if the group gains legitimacy in the international community, experts say.
However, as the Washington Post noted in an article, Taliban supporters have become increasingly sophisticated in using social media in ways that abide by the platforms’ rules to avoid getting banned for policy violations:
In accounts swelling across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram ? and in group chats on apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram ? the messaging from Taliban supporters typically challenges the West?s dominant image of the group as intolerant, vicious and bent on revenge, while staying within the evolving boundaries of taste and content that tech companies use to police user behavior.
The tactics overall show such a high degree of skill that analysts believe at least one public relations firm is advising the Taliban on how to push key themes, amplify messages across platforms and create potentially viral images and video snippets ? much like corporate and political campaigns do across the world.
And, of course, all this really does is (once again) highlight the impossibility of doing content moderation well at scale. Groups that some deem as terrorists, others (including themselves) will often declare to be freedom fighters. And, of course, it gets tricky if you just rely on the US government’s designations as well — after all the US had Nelson Mandela listed as a terrorist until 2008. That’s not to compare Mandela to the Taliban, but to note that official designations are fraught with tricky questions as well.
But this is also why various websites should have a pretty free hand in determining their own moderation policies, rather than having any government tell them who is and who is not allowed to be on any platform.