Facebook and Instagram are censuring or banning prominent Muslim accounts for merely mentioning the Taliban while mainstream media accounts remain free to talk about the group.
Since the Taliban has been trending in the news during its takeover of Afghanistan, Facebook has censured numerous accounts which have spoken about the group which it considers be a “terrorist organisation.”
Those censured have included both 5Pillars editors – Roshan Muhammed Salih and Dilly Hussain – who received violations from Facebook for merely mentioning the group in posts rather than supporting them.
Facebook has also censured or banned many other Muslim activists and pages for talking about the group rather than supporting it. This appears to be happening at the same time as mainstream media organisations face no such censorship.
Facebook says it designates the Taliban “a terrorist group” and bans it from its platforms such as Instagram and WhatsApp.
The U.S. State Department does not list the Afghan Taliban as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation like it does the Pakistani Taliban. But Washington does sanction the group as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” which freezes the U.S. assets of those blacklisted and bars Americans from working with them.
“They will not be allowed while they are proscribed by the U.S. law and even if they were not proscribed by U.S. law, we would have to do a policy analysis on whether or not they nevertheless violate our dangerous organisations policy,” Facebook’s vice president of content policy Monika Bickert told reporters.
Censorship of Muslims
The Islamify account on Instagram, which has 1.3 million followers, said Instagram had unjustly censured its content and warned it that its account could be deleted.
Islamify said: “Our last post was unjustly removed by Istagram, with false accusations that it promotes violence and dangerous organisations. The deleted post contained content sources from major news platforms and did not show support or promote violence or any form of terrorism. This isn’t the first time Instagram has been deleting our content. Last month Instagram deleted a post about fasting on the Day of Arafah.”
Meanwhile, the Muslim Daily account, with 520,000 followers on Instagram, was deleted.
They said: “During the Gaza war and attacks on Al-Aqsa we had dozens of posts removed that didn’t actually violate any guidelines and was threatened with account deletion. I did not post anything in support of Hamas actions, only posted from a neutral and factual viewpoint, many things were the same content we see on mainstream news channels…
“I also made a post on Afghanistan (nothing graphic) and spoke about the media silence on Afghan forces war crimes, such as the bombing of hospitals and clinics, and killing of civilians on both sides.
“Since the war in Gaza I’ve been shadowbanned too, thousands of my followers messaged me to say when they search for my username the account never comes up. Now the account has been disabled.”
Muslim journalist and Afghanistan expert Yvonne Ridley said she was shocked to discover that her page had breached community standards.
“I ticked the box disagreeing and it was reinstalled again. the article which appeared to offend was a 2,000 word essay examining the position of Afghan women over 45 years – when it comes to women’s rights it made grim reading but was sourced and based on government statistics. I thought I’d woken up in Pyongyang!
“I’ve read and heard plenty about this sort of censorship on the social networks and, in truth, I’ve never got steamed up about it before, but when it happens to you, you suddenly realise that this sort of ‘Big Brother’ attention is disconcerting. Don’t be like me and sit back complacent, and do nothing until it happens to you.”
The Documenting Oppression Against Muslims (DOAM) pages have also been censured on a regular basis.
DOAM said: “Ever since we started DOAM project in 2014, we’ve been deliberately targeted and constantly being censored by social media platforms simply because we are exposing oppression/hate crimes against Muslims worldwide.
“In 2017, our Facebook page with over 400,000 followers was taken down with no reason. We’ve been constantly ‘shadowbanned’ on Facebook where for a period of time our posts almost have 0 reach even though we have over 170,000 followers. We only noticed this when our followers contacted us reporting that our posts are not appearing on their news feeds. Only viewable by going directly to the page.
“On Instagram, we have been shadowbanned many times over the years where users are unable to like our posts or unable to find our page via search. None of the posts would be visible in the hashtags. In May 2021, Instagram disabled our account after raising awareness about forced evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and attacks on Al Aqsa mosque. Instagram reinstated our account after a public campaign and outrage.
“Instagram has again disabled our account recently after we posted about the Algerian Judoka Fethi Nourine who withdrew from the Olympics to avoid playing against Israeli competitor.
“Our Twitter account with 46,000 followers has been permanently marked as sensitive as a result of mass reporting and certain governments wanting to take down our content. We can’t even appeal their decision. You know what’s strange? The content we post is also widely available on these social media platforms by mainstream media outlets.
“Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that these platforms don’t want Muslim organisations to succeed as we control the narrative and they’ll do everything they can to silence you.”
Muslim activist Majid Freeman also had his account disabled.
He said: “Unfortunately my Instagram page and many other prominent Muslim pages who have been vocal in speaking out for the oppressed have been silenced by social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
“Facebook deleted my page last year which had over 100k followers. My Facebook page was removed last year for numerous posts going back a few years which simply had the words ‘Tommy Robinson’ in them. Many of them were just news articles but this apparently violated their terms and conditions and they removed it without a chance to appeal it.
“This week Instagram removed my page @majstar_7 which I’ve had since 2014. I had over 7,500 posts on there. I used my platform to amplify the voices of other Afghans who were saying the situation on the ground is not as bad as the mainstream media is portraying. Some of my posts were simply a screenshot of their tweets. This resulted in my posts being constantly removed.
“I have also used my platform to repost the same videos from other news channels like Al Jazeera English and Instagram have removed them too for ‘promoting violence’ yet the very same videos are remaining up on the news channels. Other people’s posts which are criticising the new Afghan leaders and praising western intervention and the ‘war on terror’ are staying up on Instagram without any issues.
“There’s no process for challenging their arbitrary decisions. We saw both platforms do the same with the recent attack in Gaza by Israel. At a time when mainstream media is no longer trusted by many, it’s a shame that social media platforms, who many look to as being a voice for the people on the ground in any given conflict, that they are censuring news from being disseminated in order to act as propaganda tools. The fact that Muslims are always on the receiving end of these clampdowns is also concerning.”
Majid Freeman’s new Instagram account is here.
And 5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih said: “Facebook has long since abandoned any commitment to peaceful free speech and is effectively judge, jury and executioner. We are very careful to follow its rules but we have been given violations many times even when we haven’t breached their guidelines. And of course there is no fair appeals process, you just have to accept what they do to you.
“Muslims need to wake up to the fact that these platforms will never allow genuine free speech for us and we will all be forced off them at some point unless we abandon Islam. So we need to urgently think about creating viable alternative social media platforms and other means of communicating our message to the public away from the censorship of the West.”
Thus far other social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube have not censured accounts which debate news about the Taliban.