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.

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Companies: facebook, twitter, youtube

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Comments on “Taliban Creates A New Content Moderation Challenge For Social Media”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It would be a delightful day in history if the social media companies started deleting US military posts for promoting and attempting to recruit people into violence.

It’s really sad that we actually have to discuss why the Taliban is better at following rules online than one of the 46 people we have let rule us, yet here we are.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

before you make your comment, I would suggest you go back to the 1980’s and Who we helped fight the russians.
Then in 1990, after all the promises we made in the 1980’s, WE declined to assist them in fixing their Country.
Then the bombings started, in the USA.
Twin towers 3500 dead.


Civilians Killed/injured 111,000
Military killed 3500
Injured 20,000
Money spent as of 2019 978billion

Supposedly, World wide 100,000 Taliban have been killed.

All of this because 1 president didnt acknowledge Promises made in 1990 for a war in the 80’s.
The question is Who is right or wrong, isnt a choice.
People react to things, Instantly. And got <$1billion we could have Done allot with Afghanistan in 1990. And still had a 40+ year old building complex.


And since our bible is based on another


Have fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You didn’t read the Washington Post article. They first mentioned conservative anger at Trump’s ban now contrasted with more anger about the Taliban not being banned. They then quoted a member of a DC think tank who argued that the Taliban’s accounts should be banned regardless of if they’re technically following the rules. Seems like a discussion about Trump’s behavior vs. the Taliban.

I got a lot of other things out of it but don’t feel particularly compelled to lay out all the ways the Taliban reminds me of certain people governing in the US. They’ll only respect women within the context of their religious text? Gee that sounds familiar.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Following the rules with the intent to break them?

This reminds me if the time I was a moderator at a small IRC server. We had people who argued that they were following the rules, despite the community repeatedly saying they were toxic elements and had a history of bad behavior despite them following the rules to the letter.

They were unceremoniously given the boot. And thecommunity was all the better for it.

The Taliban are acting like those people. Only qith what I presume a PR company backing them. Most likely Chinese.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
hij (profile) says:

Another Angle

To add to the fun, Congressperson Jody Hice (GA-10), has gone on record to say that Muslims should not enjoy the privilege of 1st amendment protections. He has also gone on record saying that social media corporations, like Facebook and Twitter, are violating the 1st amendment rights of conservatives, and they should be forced to change their moderation policies. It would be delightful to hear how he would approach this particular issue. By delightful, I mean utterly pathetic and depressing to learn he is a leader within the government of the USA.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Well this is awkward...

Given how staunchly vigorous the defense has been by certain groups/individuals that political views should be protected against moderation! it would seem that they’re now siding with the Taliban who are arguing that their ‘political’ content is being ‘censored’.

As if insisting that ‘politics'(read: ‘being an asshole and claiming that’s a political stance’) be a protected class wasn’t obviously a stupid enough idea already…

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rekrul says:

the messaging from Taliban supporters typically challenges the West’s dominant image of the group as intolerant, vicious and bent on revenge

I seem to recall a news story from several years ago where a school caught fire and the Taliban refused to let the female students leave without being "properly" covered, causing quite a few of them to burn to death. Not to mention the current stories of them killing people who don’t comply with their demands.

I’d say the dominant image of the group as intolerant, vicious and bent on revenge is pretty accurate.

Darkness Of Course (profile) says:

Welcome to America

If you are in America you have America’s version of Freedom of Speech. While it sounds all encompassing it is actually a very specific type of speech.

First, "Congress shall pass no law" that limits a bunch of stuff, religion, association, speech, the press, the right to assemble to tell the gov that their citizens are unhappy with them.

Now, nobody in Afghanistan is protected by our 1st Amend.

Back in America, Facebook has its own 1st Amend protections, which includes freedom of association. Which includes, for those that don’t want to go to a logical place, freedom to not associate with people and/or groups they happen to disagree with.

America’s social media platforms are private businesses. They are not part of the government, and they cannot curtail the 1st Amend because they are not "Congress"

Thank you for coming to my 1st Amend talk. Again.

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