Yesterday, we sent Facebook, YT, and others accounts belonging to the Taliban spokesman. We asked for comment, and they responded by removing them.
Today, the Taliban spokesman is complaining of censorship.
Story coming soon on this…
— Sheera Frenkel (@sheeraf) August 17, 2021
Earlier today, NY Times technology reporter, Sheera Frenkel, tweeted that she had queried Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms hosting Taliban accounts what were their policies on doing so. This was media code for: what the Hell are you thinking hosting accounts for Islamist terrorists? Frenkel noted that the accounts were all removed. Interestingly, the Taliban Twitter account (on the platform she used to announce her coup) remained active. Apparently, Twitter has different standards than the others. In fact, it explained that while it would not ban the account, it would “continue to proactively enforce” its rules on the “glorification of violence…” A responsible and reasonable approach which is being viciously attacked by Republicans who are themselves guilty of the same sort of religious bigotry, misogyny, and incitement to violence which they accuse the Taliban of.
During a news conference, presumably in Kabul, a Taliban representative responded to a question about the banning by throwing it back at the reporter saying: “Why don’t you ask Facebook why they did it?” He went on to excoriate the companies for censoring them.
Before I enter into this, let’s be clear that I harbor no sympathy for the Taliban (nor for the US 20-year, $2.36-trillion occupation). I’m under no illusion that they represent any positive or constructive outcome for Afghan society.
But the plain truth of the matter is that journalists don’t get to make moral judgments about who they cover or interview. You may not like a source. You may not agree with his or her views. You may even find him/her repulsive either personally or politically. But if that person plays a major role in the story you’re reporting you are duty-bound to include them in your coverage. And the Taliban now dominate the country and are legitimate sources deserving of a platform.
We may not like the Taliban, but they now rule a country. They make news and are entitled to use social media to announce their views. Are you going to get the accounts of Hezbollah or Iran’s Pres. taken down too? It is inappropriate for journalists to play a role in censorship. https://t.co/VmTEdZlI0Q
— Tikun Olam (@richards1052) August 17, 2021
It is not up to journalists to make judgments about who should or should not be permitted on social media platforms. Here it appropriate to add Frenkel’s rejoinder to my own tweet on the subject, in which she defended herself by saying she didn’t make the decision to ban the accounts. A disingenuous reply, because it still makes her an accessory to the act of censorship. Journalists shouldn’t be in the business of censorship or facilitating it.
Whatever our views of the Taliban, they have taken control of the country. They will be a major player, if not the major player in governing. Their views should be heard both in the media and on social media. Of course, if the content they publish to social media condones violence incites hate, then the platforms should monitor it and take appropriate action up to and including banning the account. But an outright ban simply based on the Taliban being the Taliban is presumptuous and harmful both to public discourse and the public’s right to know.
If we are going to ban the Taliban, then let’s ban every oppressive, misogynist, or religious fundamentalist movement from such platforms. The list will be hundreds, if not thousands long starting with Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthis, Iran, Israeli settlers, the Likud Party, Poland’s Law & Order Party, the GOP, etc.
Another problem with the course Frenkel chose is that the Taliban will hear that the Times was responsible for losing their access to social media. They very possibly will hold it against Times reporters in Afghanistan, thereby hindering its ability to report fully on events there.