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Facebook moves to protect users in Afghanistan from being targeted by the Taliban

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An Afghan university student looks at a meme on a Facebook account in Kabul on January 30 2016 (AFP via Getty Images)
An Afghan university student looks at a meme on a Facebook account in Kabul on January 30 2016 (AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook has brought in new security measures to protect its users in Afghanistan over concerns that the Taliban, which continues to tighten its control over the country, is using social media platforms to track its opponents.

The social media giant launched a new feature on Thursday for its Afghan users to lock their account on the platform, Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Security Policy at Facebook, announced on Twitter.

“When their profile is locked, people who aren’t their friends can’t download or share their profile photo or see posts on their timeline,” Mr Gleicher noted.

On Facebook-owned Instagram, the company said it is also rolling out pop-up alerts in Afghanistan with specific steps on how users could protect their accounts.

Mr Gleicher also announced that Facebook has removed the ability for users to view and search the “Friends” list for the accounts on its platform in Afghanistan to help protect people from being targeted by the Taliban.

And for users outside Afghanistan with friends in the country, Facebook shared a set of guidelines to tighten their visibility settings.

“Many of these were informed by feedback from activists, journalists and civil society groups,” Mr Gleicher noted.

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“We’re working closely with our counterparts in industry, civil society, and government to provide whatever support we can to help protect people,” he said.

The company has also started a special operations centre to respond to new threats as they emerge, the head of security policy noted.

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“We know that no single step is enough by itself in crises like this, but we’re watching closely as the situation develops and will take steps to help protect people in real time,” Mr Cleicher added.

The current moves by the company follow its measures earlier in the week to ban content supporting the Taliban on all of its platforms, including Instagram and Whatsapp.

“The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organisation under US law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies,” a company spokesperson had toldThe Independent.

Facebook said a dedicated team of Afghanistan experts, who are native Dari and Pashto speakers and have knowledge of local context, are helping the company identify emerging issues on the platform.

“We remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them,” the company’s spokesperson had said.

Meanwhile Twitter said earlier this week that it is monitoring the “rapidly evolving” situation in Afghanistan, adding that its top priority is to keep people safe, and remain vigilant.

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“We’re also witnessing people in the country using Twitter to seek help and assistance,” CNBC reported, quoting a Twitter spokesperson.

The microblogging platform’s lack of action led to criticism from people, including supporters of Donald Trump, who said the former president is still banned for life from Twitter while the spokespeople for the Taliban are allowed to post.

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