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Synopsis: With the Taliban coming to power in Afghanistan, it raised many issues, including how the digital media giants will handle their communication and posts.
Recently, a Pakistani blog Hum Sab was banned by Facebook for posting comments on the Taliban. Given that the Taliban is now in power in Afghanistan, can Facebook ban an entire government and its functionaries from using the platform?
What are the factors that complicate how media houses will handle the Taliban?
Some confusion comes from US policy itself. Many of the Afghan Taliban are on the US Sanctions list under the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulation. But they are not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.
This was done for political reasons, as the USA wanted to keep the communication channels open with the powerful Taliban group. These designations affect how social media platforms approach the Taliban differently.
How different platforms are handling the issue?
Facebook divides its Community Standards related to “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” into three tiers, with the first being the most stringent. The section of Tier 1 relevant to the Afghan Taliban states: “including terrorist organizations, including entities and individuals designated by the United States government as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) or Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).” Thus, Facebook is very stringent on the Taliban.
Twitter has allowed more freedom to the Taliban. Twitter’s “Violent Organizations Policy” moderates content on a post-by-post basis rather than a blanket ban on the organization. In the past, Twitter has been under fire regarding its policies toward the Palestinian group Hamas and the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Twitter responded by saying that it respected US law, but it made an exception for “groups with representatives who have been elected to public office through elections, as is the case with parts of Hamas and Hezbollah.”
However, at times the policies turn out to be contradictory.
What are the challenges posed by the policies of media platforms?
At times, the policies can backfire. For example, Twitter banned Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari for using abusive language. The president then banned Twitter from Nigeria itself. This was bad news for people as the platform was used by various human rights groups to highlight their cause in Nigeria.
Another threat posed by these platforms is that they are USA-based. They work based on US Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctions lists that are by definition intended to achieve US foreign policy interests. As a result, people in politically contested areas, such as Palestine, end up being silenced.
There are also double standards toward content in the global south as opposed to in the West. This was pointed out by the Digital Media Alliance of Pakistan in a recent letter to Facebook. Facebook is quick to take action against posts about the Afghan Taliban in Pakistan. But the same content is allowed for users in the United States.
What should be the way forward?
Given the complexity of global standards, the media platforms should seek to provide fair and equal rules for all members of the global community and should give up their double standards.
Source: This post is based on the article “Should Facebook let the Taliban post?“ published in Indian Express on 15th September 2021.