Facebook said Tuesday it was blocking WhatsApp accounts linked to the Taliban after the radical Islamic group seized control of Afghanistan and sought to use the messaging service to help it govern.
“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.
The Facebook move shut down a WhatsApp hotline the Taliban had set up to receive complaints about violence and looting, according to the Financial Times.
A WhatsApp spokesperson said in an email to AFP that the company is required to follow US sanctions.
“This includes banning accounts that appear to represent themselves as official accounts of the Taliban. We’re seeking more information from relevant US authorities given the evolving situation in Afghanistan,” the company said.
“This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them.”
The news comes with social media platforms facing pressure to block accounts used by the Taliban since the offensive which led to the takeover of the war-ravaged country.
Facebook said it was using “a dedicated team of Afghanistan experts, who are native Dari and Pashto speakers and have knowledge of local context,” to help guide policy.
“Our teams are closely monitoring this situation as it evolves. Facebook does not make decisions about the recognized governmentin any particular country but instead respects the authority of the international community in making these determinations,” Facebook said.
A Taliban spokesman meanwhile criticized Facebook for blocking “freedom of speech” in the country as a result of the crackdown by the US firm.
At a news conference streamed online, the Taliban official responded to a question about freedom of expression by saying, “The question should be asked to those people who are claiming to be promoters of freedom of speech who do not allow publication of all information.. the Facebook company, this question should be asked to them.”
Likewise Alphabet Inc’s YouTube said on Tuesday it has a long held policy of not allowing accounts believed to be operated by the Taliban on its site, as social media companies faced questions about how they would handle the group that fast gained control of Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s return to power for the first time in 20 years has raised fears of a crackdown on freedom of speech and human rights, especially women’s rights, and concerns that the country could again become a hotspot for global terrorism.
Separately, the Financial Times reported that Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp messaging service has shut down a complaints helpline for Afghans to contact the Taliban, set up by the group after it took control of Kabul on Sunday.
A WhatsApp spokesperson declined to comment on the action, but said the service was obligated by US sanctions laws to ban accounts that appear to represent themselves as official accounts of the Taliban.
The complaints number that was an emergency hotline for civilians to report violence, looting or other problems was blocked by Facebook on Tuesday, along with other official Taliban channels, the report said.
Facebook had on Monday said it designates the Taliban a terrorist group and bans it and content supporting it from its platforms.
A Taliban spokesman accused Facebook of censorship at a news conference on Tuesday, according to a translation of his remarks in a video clip.
YouTube, when asked if it banned the Taliban on Monday, declined to comment. But it said on Tuesday that its prohibition of the group was a long-standing approach.
The Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan poses challenges for multiple major social media and messaging platforms on what and who should be allowed on their platforms.
Asked if it would allow the Taliban to operate official Afghan government Facebook pages or accounts, Facebook pointed to a statement in which it said it respects the authority of the international community in making determinations on recognized governments.
Twitter Inc, which is reviewing its rules for world leaders on the platform, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the same question.
Taliban spokesmen with hundreds of thousands of followers have tweeted updates during the country’s takeover. A Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that the network would review content that may violate its rules, specifically against the glorification of violence or platform manipulation, but did not answer questions on whether it has any particular restrictions on the Taliban as a group or how it classifies violent organizations.
Source: Arab News