Taliban armed Twitter: UofR investigation report

According to a new study from the University of Regina, the Taliban deployed Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and especially Twitter in the short time it took to retake Afghanistan.

They made hundreds of premature declarations of victory via Twitter to amplify their messages and create a sense of inevitability. Their smartphones were as handy as their guns when they stormed Kabul on Aug. 15, the study suggests.

Lead author Dr. Brian McQuinn said the use of social media as a tool for political gain is quite an international phenomenon.

“I think we’ve all been through it here in Canada through the pandemic and through some events like the truck convoy to Ottawa. How social media has really changed the way small groups of people can leverage their communities and funding and their ability to actually make an impact on the kind of larger body politic.

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McQuinn said Twitter was used as the gateway to link all other social media outlets because moderation on Twitter didn’t actually exist.

“Of the 126,000 accounts that had any involvement with Taliban content, only 49 were ever moderated or restricted in any way. So that meant they could basically open up to open air and operate freely.

He added that most of the moderation efforts by social media companies are focused on North America, “87% of the money Facebook spends on moderation is spent in North America alone, and they represent only 7% of the total user base.” from Facebook,” said McQuinn. “That means large groups working in other parts of the world have almost no moderation at all unless it’s very obvious, unless it goes viral. These companies just don’t have the resources or have chosen to not have the resources to really track this on a scale that would have a meaningful impact.”

They report studies of 63 accounts claimed by the Taliban leadership, spokespersons and recognized members from April 1 to September 16, 2021. These accounts had more than 2 million followers on Twitter by September 2021. As of May 8, 2022, the content of the Taliban reaches more than 3.3 million accounts.

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According to the report, the Taliban tweeted more than 100,000 times between April and mid-September 2021. A supportive social media ecosystem of at least 126,000 Twitter accounts subsequently bolstered these posts, with Taliban-written content being retweeted nearly a million times.

The group was so effective at using Twitter to reach domestic audiences that it generated more than four times more engagement on the platform than the content of 18 mainstream Afghan news organizations combined.

Researchers confirmed that the average Taliban Twitter account posted 23 times more content than the average Taliban Facebook page.

According to the report, Twitter appears to be taking advantage of the Taliban’s presence on the platform. Investigations found that Twitter ran sponsored ads paid for by US and Canadian companies, including Amazon, Disney, McDonalds, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. These ads appeared on 30 percent of Taliban accounts, such as Taliban spokespersons and senior leaders.

The investigation also found that Twitter continued to place ads on accounts marked for posting “potentially sensitive content.”

“Twitter made money from this leadership and the presence of their followers on Twitter. So regardless of what you think about their ability to act as authorities, should Twitter monetize those accounts and what they do?” McQuinn said. “If you look at this account and ask yourself, is this a terrorist network? Obviously this is a pretty bad group of people. But then you have McDonald’s and Amazon and CIBC advertising on these pages. It adds a certain amount of legitimacy to those pages.”

The report shed light on Twitter’s failures in moderation. “Only 49 of the more than 126,000 accounts in the Taliban support network show evidence of moderation action by Twitter. The vast majority (83%) of Taliban-related accounts were created before 2021, long before platforms could claim their presence was allowed because they represented the governing authority in Afghanistan.

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These accounts also shared content, including graphics and videos of dead and decomposing bodies, in direct violation of Twitter’s posted and dissemination policies.
sensitive content. In addition, three quarters of the Taliban’s content was produced by just 20 accounts, suggesting that relatively simple moderation efforts could have significantly limited the content generated by the group.

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