Washington: Five Taliban websites that were key to how the militant group delivered its official messages to those inside and outside Afghanistan have done offline abruptly, a sign that moves to limit the Taliban’s online reach were gaining traction.
It was not immediately clear who or what took the Taliban sites offline on Saturday AEST, though all five previously had protection from Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based company that helps websites deliver content and defend against cyber attacks. The company did not respond to a request for comment on whether it was still protecting the sites, which had versions in Pashto, Dari, Arabic, Urdu and English. All were offline Friday afternoon.
SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online extremism, said numerous WhatsApp groups used by the Taliban also had been shut down by Friday. WhatsApp, an encrypted chat service used widely in much of the world, is owned by Facebook, which has banned official Taliban accounts from its services.
WhatsApp spokeswoman Alison Bonny declined to comment on whether the company had taken new action against the Taliban, but she reiterated previous Facebook company statements on the subject generally: “We’re obligated to adhere to US sanctions laws. 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.”
Notably, Twitter has not followed a similar policy of shutting down Taliban accounts on its platform, reflecting both its different corporate judgments and the murkiness of US policy and law. The US State Department has designated the Pakistani Taliban a foreign terrorist organisation but has not applied the same label to the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban, however, is listed as a sanctioned entity under rulings from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Twitter has allowed several official Taliban accounts, including some used by spokesmen for the group, to continue operating so long as they obey rules against objectionable content, such as inciting violence through tweets.
The Taliban has used social media and the internet adeptly for years to spread its messages, casting itself as a liberation army aiming to free Afghanistan from outside occupation and restore a traditional brand of Islamic law. At the same time, it also has sought to soften its harsh image – inside and outside Afghanistan – as a brutal insurgent force bent on revenge nearly 20 years after US-led coalition drove them from power.