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Facebook and Afghanistan: Social Media and Nation States

Facebook and Afghanistan: Social Media and Nation States
By Keith Teare • Issue #270 • View online
As Kabul collapsed and the Taliban took over, Facebook decided to try and remove any Taliban-related content. Good or Bad?

Contents
Editorial
The reaction in social media to the failed “nation building” exercise in Afghanistan has focused on the details of the departure of the US and UK presence and the speed of the Taliban advance. It has largely sought to blame President Biden for poor tactics whilst embracing his larger point that the entire US episode was a mistake from day one and was always unwinnable.
To a large degree, there is nothing to learn from that reaction or the various efforts to discredit Biden. But that does not mean there is nothing of interest in the events. Aside from the many human stories the reaction of Facebook to the events gives us much to consider.
Facebook is clearly not a US-centric platform. Its users span the globe and at over 2.85 billion active users they represent all points of view across the spectrum of human thought.
The Taliban (the word means “students” in Pashtun) is a political movement that has the goal of establishing a state based on Sharia law. According to the BBC:
The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries - mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia - which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.
The promise made by the Taliban - in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan - was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.
With the decision of the Trump administration to agree on a peace deal with them, it was always inevitable that on the departure of the US troops the Taliban would likely come back to prominence. Afghanistan has no alternative mass popular movement to form another narrative for its future. And the belief that religion should form the basis of law, whilst clearly a throwback to the earliest evolution of human society, is not uncommon in the world, including here in the USA (“God Bless the USA”) and in the UK (“God Save the Queen”).
So, when Facebook took the decision to attempt to remove any Taliban content from its service it did two things. Firstly it decided that the point of view represented by the Taliban should not be seen or heard. Secondly, it seemed to be carrying out US foreign policy. This is from a CNN opinion piece by Jillian C. York - the author of Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism.
Facebook confirmed this week that, despite taking control of Afghanistan, it would continue to ban the Taliban from using its platform, citing the United States’ inclusion of the group on its Specially Designated Global Terrorists list, as well as the company’s own policy against “dangerous organizations.”
As a large global platform that claims not to be a publisher, but a canvas on which others can publish, it appears odd that the Taliban’s views are considered off-limits or outside the scope of what others should be able to see. To say this is not to support those views but to give us access to them so that we can assess them ourselves.
Paradoxically, in the same week, Facebook announced that full end-to-end encryption is now implemented in Facebook Messenger. This from TechCrunch:
End-to-end encryption (E2EE) — a security feature that prevents third-parties from eavesdropping on calls and chats — has been available for text conversations on Facebook’s flagship messaging service since 2016. Although the company has faced pressure from governments to roll back its end-to-end encryption plans, Facebook is now extending this protection to both voice and video calls on Messenger, which means that “nobody else, including Facebook, can see or listen to what’s sent or said.”
“End-to-end encryption is already widely used by apps like WhatsApp to keep personal conversations safe from hackers and criminals,” Ruth Kricheli, director of product management for Messenger, said in a blog post on Friday. “It’s becoming the industry standard and works like a lock and key, where just you and the people in the chat or call have access to the conversation.”
Facebook also demonstrated its “multiverse” version of online meetings this week. In all of this it is clear that global communications are going to be private and encrypted, outside of the ability of governments, or platforms, to “see” what is being said. Surveillance Capitalism is not a possibility in this world. And as audiences supported by these tools grow to millions of viewers it is clear that all points of view will be able to organize and gather an audience free of interference.
The good news is that this will prevent “banning” from being an effective tool against ideas. It will force us all to acknowledge that the only real way to combat a repressive, backward-looking ideology is with open debate and a more convincing free and open future proof alternative. Clearly, that is what Afghans need. Better ideas, and leadership of those ideas. Without that the only organized idea will inevitably win. A decades-long US military presence was never going to produce that. Only real people with a real stake in the future can do so.
This week’s newsletter has two sections that are peripherally related to the discussion of the future. The first - Capitalism, Communism, and Freedom - has articles covering attempts by economic and political forces to shape the future. Some in China (the attack on “billionaires” by the CCP), some in South Africa (the attempt to introduce a form of Universal Basic Income), some here in the US (Apple’s surveillance plans and the EFF’s opposition), and some global (the flood of private equity cash into private companies). Any idea that we could simply say that capitalism is good and communism is bad is very challenged by these stories. They force us into the details of what kind of world we want. In my opinion, that question is always front and center and defies simple answers. But for me, it has to include an open debate between competing views. More in this week’s video.
Video
Facebook and Afghanistan: Social Media and Nation States
Facebook and Afghanistan: Social Media and Nation States
Big Tech and Foreign Policy
Platforms struggle with Taliban policy amid chaotic US withdrawal
Facebook Messenger rolls out end-to-end encrypted voice and video calls
Facebook is bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger calls and Instagram DMs – TechCrunch
Capitalism, Communism, and Freedom
Speak Out Against Apple’s Mass Surveillance Plans
Private capital groups soar on boom in unlisted assets | Financial Times
The U.S. States with the Top Tech Salaries in 2021
Government’s plan to give basic income to everyone in South Africa – and it wants tax hikes to fund it
The End of the Workplace?
The future of work according to Envoy's CEO
Data and the Enterprise Stack
Innovation and Delusion
Twitter adds support for Twitter Spaces to its rebuilt API – TechCrunch
Hands-on with Facebook’s new VR for work app Horizon Workrooms - The Verge
Crypto is the New Normal
Walmart Is Hiring A “Digital Currency And Cryptocurrency Product Lead”
Second largest US mortgage lender will accept crypto payments this year
Wells Fargo And JPMorgan Both File For Passive Bitcoin Funds - Bitcoin Magazine: Bitcoin News, Articles, Charts, and Guides
Lionel Messi's Paris Saint-Germain deal includes cryptocurrency payment
Robinhood says dogecoin accounted for 62% of crypto revenue in Q2
Nigeria to consider upcoming CBDC as ‘critical national infrastructure’
Stablecoins find a use case in Africa’s most volatile markets
Startup of the week
World's Youngest Billionaires: How Johnny Boufarhat Built a $3 Billion Fortune - Bloomberg
Tweet of the Week
Paul Graham
Even the best startups often go through near-death experiences. The problem with venture debt is that it tends to turn near-death experiences into death experiences. Avoid it if you can.
Lenders offer cheap deals to Silicon Valley to compete with flood of venture capital | Financial Times
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Keith Teare, Palo Alto, California