Kabul, Afghanistan — Twitter owner Elon Musk’s freewheeling approach to the platform’s handling of censorship has won support from an unlikely quarter — Afghanistan’s Taliban.
Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban leader without an official portfolio, said late Monday that Twitter had “two important advantages” over other social media platforms following the launch of Meta-owned rival Threads.
“The first privilege is the freedom of speech. The second privilege is the public nature & credibility of Twitter,” he tweeted.
“Twitter doesn’t have an intolerant policy like Meta. Other platforms cannot replace it.”
The remarks drew an angry reaction from some users, who noted the Taliban government did not allow its own citizens the same rights.
The Taliban had a low-key presence on social media until they stormed back to power in August 2021. Before that, many of their accounts — and those of sympathisers — were frequently blocked as fast as they were created.
Now the government uses Twitter as a major vehicle for announcements, and most ministries and provincial departments have official accounts, although none appear to have paid for a blue tick since Twitter scrapped its verification system earlier this year.
Meta — owner of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and now Threads — is still actively shutting down accounts associated with the Taliban.
Social media observers say accounts with the name “Taliban”, “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” or featuring the movement’s distinctive flag rarely last long.
Last year Facebook shuttered the pages of state-owned Radio Television Afghanistan and Bakhtar News Agency, saying at the time it was complying with laws in the United States listing the Taliban as a “terrorist organisation”.
Under Musk, who bought Twitter last year, bans on tens of thousands of accounts — including former US president Donald Trump — were swiftly reversed.
Many had been suspended for reasons such as denying US election results, spreading misinformation about Covid-19, peddling conspiracy theories or promoting extremist ideologies.
Haqqani — son of famed anti-Russian mujahideen fighter turned Taliban Jalaluddin Haqqani, and brother of interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani — is one of the movement’s youngest political leaders.
With more than half a million followers on Twitter he frequently opines — often in English — on subjects ranging from cricket and poetry to local and global politics.
Several people were swift to criticise his free speech comments Tuesday, pointing to what they characterised as the “hypocrisy” of the remarks.
The social media activity of ordinary Afghans is closely monitored by the Taliban authorities, and several people have been detained and questioned for posts critical of the Taliban government.
“How shameful it is for you to talk about freedom of expression,” wrote Homeira Qaderi, an exiled author and activist.
Another exile, journalist and activist Natiq Malikzada, tweeted: “Lol, lauding freedom of speech as a sweet veneer to mask your dark regime, while thousands inside Afghanistan languish in jail for criticizing your oppressive rule.
“Hypocrisy at its finest.”