The advance of the Taliban in taking power in Kabul left the world surprised, with strong images, but also a peculiarity: the acceptance by the most radical of the technologies associated with smartphones, such as WhatsApp, social networks and the use of cameras to take selfies. Something that by religion fundamentalists were always prohibited.
In fact, the punishments against those who used any type of technological advance associated with mass consumption were always known.. 2021 finds you embracing technology in all its glory, and even with a website translated into five different languages, accounts on various social networks and an active participation of its members.
In fact, the first images to go viral were those of the Taliban taking selfies after controlling the Afghan capital, and even the Taliban spokesman reported the news via Twitter.
کابل ښار تر مدیریت لاندې دی ، د اسلامي امارت ځانګړيی قطعات د امنیت د تأمین په موخه د ښار په مختلفوپ بر پاو.
عام خلک د مجاهدینو په ورتګ خوښي ښیي او له امنیت څخه راضي دي. pic.twitter.com/kr6i5jkhLk
– Zabihullah (..ذبـــــیح الله م) (@ Zabehulah_M33) August 16, 2021
The 180 degree turn is explained because the Taliban went from considering technology a tool that corrupts morale from self-defined “good Muslims” to a powerful weapon of propaganda and organization that helps them spread their messages, recruit soldiers and pool resources.
In addition, they take advantage of the networks to communicate what they consider to be changes in the regime.
Thus, the radical interpretation of Koran that characterizes the Taliban regime can take different forms and, one of them today, is to embrace these changes in pursuit of the seizure of power.
Technology, from enemy to ally
A photo from 2009: The Taliban began adopting the technology very soon after 2001. AP Photo
The change was not recent, however. Shortly after the United States invaded Afghanistan almost 20 years ago, the Taliban realized that they could use social media tools through the internet to have a voice.
It happens that for guerrilla warfare direct communication is a key advantage. A study by the University of Qatar already warned of the use of communication technologies as a weapon by Al Qaeda and the Taliban in 2011.
“The Taliban were forced to adopt new communication technologies in order to be able to reach mass audiences. Thus, what was seen as a curse a few years ago, a work of the devil, has now been transformed into a new way of promoting and nurturing their ideals, ”the study points out.
In 2016, in fact, the France Press news agency reported that the Taliban had a website for their press office translated into five languages, Twitter and Facebook accounts and spread text messages through cell phones with their propaganda.
They even launched their own application, called Alemarah App, in which they posted communications and videos in which they charged against the Afghan government and international forces.
How each social network reacted
A message from the outgoing Afghan president: the attention of the world rested in the middle east. AFP photo
The Washington Post raised a question this week about what will happen to Afghanistan’s official social media. The country has its Facebook and Twitter accounts and while the Taliban have taken effective control of the government, it could be considered that granting access to official accounts legitimizes their control over the country.
What began as a necessity to spread their propaganda has been transformed, during the lightning offensive of recent weeks, into a powerful strategic weapon to coordinate the attack, which made social networks have been highly criticized for allowing the insurgents to use them for military and political purposes.
Facebook, owner of WhatsApp, officially banned accounts owned or supported by the Taliban on Tuesday, according to a statement, so if their systems detect messages or accounts that defend or promote their actions, they are eliminated.
But until this week they could use all those channels as long as they didn’t share violent content or that were against the Zuckerberg rules of use.
In addition, a spokesperson for the instant messaging app acknowledged a few days ago to Vice that end-to-end encryption of the application makes that work difficult and makes it easier for fundamentalists to continue using it to communicate.
Afghan refugees: the latent drama. AFP photo
Twitter, a platform that has been used by the Taliban for years, does not have an official position towards the rebels. As explained by a spokesperson for the social network to The Verge, they limit themselves to moderating the content that violates existing rules against violence or manipulation. Reason why some Taliban leaders have been able to use the platform to spread messages about their progress.
YouTube, for its part, did take action: it canceled all the accounts they believe are linked to the Taliban once they have suspicions that they belong to them.
Official Taliban spokesmen put up cold cloths: They have been spreading messages of calm in recent days as they the troops were advancing towards Kabul.
Time will tell if these messages are consistent with the actions of the Government.