Facebook is actively limiting the spread of pro-Taliban content on its social media platforms as the Islamist group seizes control of Afghanistan.

Head of Facebook-owned Instagram, Adam Mosseri, described the situation in Afghanistan following 20 years of war as “terrifying”.

“The Taliban is under US sanctions which means that, due to our dangerous organisations policies, we don’t actually allow any presence – any celebration, promotion, or any representation of the Taliban on Instagram or on any of the Facebook applications,” Mosseri told Bloomberg.

“And so, we are relying on that policy to proactively take down anything we can that might be dangerous or that is related to the Taliban in general.”

The Taliban’s presence on Facebook has long been restricted due to its status as a designated terrorist organisation under US law, meaning no one can hold a Facebook account on behalf of the insurgency group and users are forbidden from praising or supporting them.

Under Facebook’s Community Guidelines, terrorists are defined as non-state actors that engage in acts of violence which harm civilians “with the intent to coerce, intimidate and/or influence a civilian population, government or international organisation … in order to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim”.

A Facebook spokesperson told Information Age the company has “a dedicated team of regional experts” and is “monitoring this situation as it evolves” to appropriately moderate content on the platform.

“Facebook does not make decisions about the recognised government in any particular country but instead respects the authority of the international community in making these determinations,” the spokesperson said.

“Regardless of who holds power, we will take the appropriate action against accounts and content that breaks our rules.”

Twitter, on the other hand, allows pro-Taliban accounts and a spokesperson for the organisation, Suhail Shaheen, has had an account on the social media platform since 2019.

New rule

Following the withdrawal of US troops, Taliban forces quickly swept through Afghanistan in a major offensive which culminated in the fall of its capital Kabul this week.

The group has conducted media interviews and held a press conference on Wednesday in an attempt to reassure the international community that, despite its previously brutal and oppressive regime, the insurgent group could be trusted to run a country free from widespread human rights abuses and mistreatment of women.

On the same day as that press conference, Taliban fighters reportedly shot a woman dead in the streets for not wearing a burqa.

While the media coverage and appearance of spokespeople in press conferences attempts to lend legitimacy to Taliban government in Afghanistan, internationally it has been recognised as the country’s de-facto government after an historic and swift takeover.

However, Canada isn’t interested, with Justin Trudeau saying the government had “no plans” to recognise a Taliban government and that his country didn’t recognise it 20 years ago either.

The European Union acknowledged it would have to talk to the Taliban, even if it does not recognise its government, in order to provide humanitarian aid and to “use [its] leverage” to see human rights – especially those of women and girls – respected and upheld, EU Foreign Affairs representative Josep Borrell said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Larov said it would be “premature” to recognise a Taliban government, but that there were “encouraging signs” that the Taliban would form a government “that includes other political forces”.

The geopolitical situation is thus complicated as the dust – both figuratively and literally – settles on a country that has been embroiled in conflict for 20 years.