How the Taliban Turned Social Media Into a Tool for Control

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On Friday last week, when Taliban forces took the key city of Herat, they distributed images and videos of militia leaders posing with Ismail Khan, a well-known local commander and Taliban opponent, showing him unrestrained and appearing at ease.

The message was clear, Mr. Sayed said: “If we can treat Ismail Khan, a top enemy, with such respect, there will not be danger for anyone.”

In Kabul, many Taliban-trained journalists have been busy on the streets, often holding a microphone with the logo of the group’s propaganda site. In one video posted to the Twitter account of the Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, a reporter interviews residents in Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw area. When he asks a young boy about the takeover of the capital, the boy responds, “We are happy and have been living in peace.”

While some have responded positively to the messaging, the digital transfer of power has sent a shock across Afghanistan’s best-connected cities. Many of the voices that would once argue back against Taliban posts have gone silent for fear of retribution. Digital rights groups have said many people with ties to the former government or the United States have closed social media profiles, left chat groups and deleted old messages.

When Mr. Mujahid announced a news conference in a widely used WhatsApp journalist group this week, some members dropped out of the chat. One, who worked for foreign media and who asked for anonymity, fearing retaliation, said journalists who had written critically about the Taliban were worried about a backlash.

Even so, social media carried some signs of resistance. On Tuesday, a video of a small group of women protesting in Kabul in the presence of Taliban fighters was shared widely. The next day, videos of an incident in Jalalabad, in which the Taliban opened fire on a group of youths who had removed the militants’ flag and replaced it with that of the fallen Afghan government, went viral.