Taliban Facebook plan is attempt to silence critics, journalists say

washington — Plans by the Taliban to block access to Facebook are a further attempt to curtail freedom of speech and silence critics in Afghanistan, according to journalists and activists.

The proposal was announced by the Taliban’s acting minister of telecommunication and information technologies, Najibullah Haqqani.

In an interview with TOLO News, Haqqani said his ministry was preparing a policy “either to restrict or block” access to Facebook in Afghanistan.

Haqqani said that blocking the social media platform was “in the interest of the nation.” He added that because Afghan youth are too uneducated to use Facebook in a “positive way,” using it “is a waste of time and money.”

Afghan journalists and activists, however, see the proposal as an attempt to further curtail free expression and media freedoms.

The proposed policy is a continuation of the Taliban’s “repressive restrictions,” said one Kabul-based journalist, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. The journalist said that “by blocking Facebook, they [the Taliban] want to limit journalists from sharing news and information and silence activists and [government] critics.”

The journalist said that restrictions on social media would have negative impact. With news already being censored across the country, many people turn to Facebook for information, he said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom group, said in a statement said that the Taliban’s plan “would further impede the free flow of information in the country.”

According to Statista, an online statistics database, Afghanistan has 3.15 million active social media users, and Facebook is one of the most popular social media platforms. Since the Taliban takeover in 2021, social media platforms have been increasingly used by journalists and others to share information.

Facebook also fills a gap left by the closure of hundreds of news outlets. Since 2021, hundreds of media outlets have closed, said media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, and the Taliban have imposed repressive restrictions on independent media in the country.  

These include bans on transborder media, including VOA, its sister network RFE/RL and the BBC. The Taliban also issued media directives and ordered news outlets and journalists to coordinate with officials when preparing content and reporting on events.

But can the Taliban block social media?

It is technically possible to restrict or block Facebook, said Pervaiz Dostiyar, an information technology specialist, adding that the platform is banned in China and Iran.

“But it is difficult to ban Facebook since there are always ways to access the platform, such as using VPN,” or virtual private network, he added.

The Taliban have had a wide presence on some social media platforms, including X and WhatsApp.

Hamid Obaidi, a former journalism lecturer at Kabul University and the head of the Afghanistan Journalists Support Organization, told VOA that the Taliban have been using social media as the main channel for their “propaganda,” but now they want to restrict it for others.

Meta, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has cracked down on the Taliban’s accounts.

Agence France-Presse earlier reported how Meta closed accounts labeled “Taliban” or “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and two of its state-run media groups. Meta said it was acting to comply with U.S. law that lists the Taliban as a “terrorist organization.”

Those fighting to protect rights in Afghanistan also rely heavily on the platforms.

“Activists use social media in their struggle against the Taliban. They are trying to curtail the protests against them,” said Obaidi, who is now in Germany.

Rahela Kaveer, an Afghan women’s rights activist in the U.S., told VOA that the Taliban’s proposal shows that the group is afraid of any information being shared.

“They want to silence voices raised against their crime that they committed against women in Afghanistan,” she said.

The rights organization Human Rights Watch has found that the Taliban “systematically violated the rights of women and girls” in Afghanistan.

Women are barred from secondary and university education, work and traveling long distances without a close male relative, and are even blocked from going to public parks and gyms.

Since the Taliban takeover, female activists have protested the repressive measures, often using social media to convey their message to the Afghan and international communities.

“They do not want the people and the world to know about the women’s situation in Afghanistan,” Kaveer said.

No further details have been provided about the proposed Facebook ban, and it is not clear when it will be reviewed or enacted.

Ehsanullah Aruobzai and Lina Rozbih from VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report. This article originated in VOA’s Afghan Service. 

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