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Friday, June 17th 2016
“. . . the Taliban are active on a variety of media platforms. They recently began releasing audio files with songs and news updates, and launched a smartphone app for their Voice of Jihad website, available in multiple languages. Their videos, once grainy, are sleek and widely shared.” Reporting from Kabul and Dubai, Ehsanullah Amiri and Margherita Stancati reviewed the tug of war between Taliban propagandists and social media companies – Google, Twitter, Alphabet, CloudFare, and Amazon among them – in an article, “Afghanistan’s Taliban Push Into New Media ,” in The Wall Street Journal on June 12, 2016. Among the highlights:
- Before the Taliban were toppled from power in the U.S.-led invasion of 2001, the hard-line Islamist group banned television, cinemas and photography as un-Islamic. When they came together again as an insurgency to fight the Afghan government and its foreign backers, they communicated in terse battlefield updates shared through their website and later on Twitter. They also sent the occasional wordy missive to journalists.
- Now, the Taliban are active on a variety of media platforms. They recently began releasing audio files with songs and news updates, and launched a smartphone app for their Voice of Jihad website, available in multiple languages. Their videos, once grainy, are sleek and widely shared.
- The Taliban’s digital revamp has coincided with the rise of their rival, Islamic State, which early on surprised the world with its deft command of social media and highly-produced propaganda videos.
- “Our audience and readers can decide for themselves whose team is stronger on social media,” said Imran Khalil, a self-taught Web developer who heads the Taliban’s tech team from an undisclosed location. “I mean, the Islamic Emirate has a much longer history than ISIS,” he said, using the formal name that the Taliban have given their movement.
- The Taliban are far stronger in Afghanistan than Islamic State, but in public messaging the long-running insurgency is playing catch-up with its upstart rival.
- From their hide-outs on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, Taliban have started accounts on open platforms that often stayed below the radar of the companies that operate them. In late 2015, the group began using Telegram Messenger for official communications, following a similar move early in the year by Islamic State, whose technical experts had determined the messaging app was among the most secure encrypted platforms.
- In March, the Taliban tech team . . . rolled out the Taliban’s Voice of Jihad app, designed for smartphones powered by the Google Android operating system. The idea was to make the group’s online content—updates from the front line, propaganda videos and official statements—more accessible to Afghans, who go online mainly through their mobile phones.
- The stepped-up digital outreach comes as the Taliban, through its media office, has been trying to play down the appearance of growing divisions within the insurgency, even as rival factions battle each other in parts of the country. It also comes as companies, governments and hackers intensify efforts to confront extremist activity online.
- Days after the Taliban app surfaced in late March on Google’s Play store, the company quickly deleted it. It appeared soon after on Amazon.com Inc. ’s Appstore, where it was also taken down. The two companies said they prohibit apps that contain illegal or offensive content.
- Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi sees the group’s stepped-up communication effort as a way to deflect attention from their military failures. “Since the Taliban have been defeated by Afghan security forces on the battlefield, they are now using propaganda to distort people’s minds,” he said. “But they can’t achieve anything through their propaganda.”