A major political turmoil is taking place on the soil of Afghanistan. President Ashraf Ghani left the country after he couldn’t fight against the Taliban anymore. The name Taliban means “students” in the Pashto language and the movement-cum-organization that originated in the early 1990s is known for its extremist ideologies.
While the Taliban is going to form a government in Afghanistan again, it goes without saying that people are getting influenced all across the world.
Taliban content and the social media filter bubble
My Instagram feed is getting populated with videos and memes that are supposedly related to the Taliban. It includes everything from folks chilling at the President’s mansion to lifting weights in the gym and driving dash cars in the entertainment parks. Thankfully, nothing disturbing has appeared so far.
We also found a critical problem during our research where some Instagram pages and users are abusing #taliban and other popular hashtags to promote their unrelated propaganda.
I am not here to talk about the Taliban’s political agendas or comment on the extremist practices they are known to follow. I am just saying that I am seeing more Taliban-related content after the recent series of events that happened in Afghanistan. I not taking into account the news coverage from reputed publications but the social media content that tries to romanticize the folks.
When watching such memes and videos, you’ll feel they’re exploring those things for the first time, as if the members were not introduced to gyms and parks before. However, right now it’s hard to comment on the authenticity of those videos.
If you scroll through media reports, you will realize that the Taliban isn’t as fun-loving as they seem in those videos. When considering the ground reality, the so-called fun content seems to be watering it down and prevents people from seeing the other horrific side of the story. The situation becomes worse if those videos aren’t even real.
Not just Instagram, big credit for this trend goes to the filter bubble that social media platforms create which can further lead to an echo chamber around the user. It shows you one type of content and if you interact with it in some way, you’ll start seeing more of it.
You can judge the extent to which the Instagram algorithms can go. Recently, the USB charger in my car broke and I was complaining about it while driving with my phone kept nearby. Now, I am seeing ads for portable car chargers even though I didn’t initiate a single search anywhere on the web (PS: The CEOs of Facebook and Instagram have previously denied that their apps work in that manner). Therefore, throwing similar content seems like a cakewalk for the recommendation system.
So, it’s like even if you don’t follow the movement or whatever your stance is, you’ll still get used to its presence in your social media feed. In the past, we have seen terrorist organizations use social media to reach out to potential recruits who would get influenced and join their cause.
There have been reports of Facebook and other social networks banning Taliban-linked content on their platforms. Facebook told the BBC that it considers the Taliban a terrorist organization and intends to ban all content violating its policies.
But it’s easier said than done, and it’s possible that sooner or later a user could move past the memes and viral videos, and start seeing the extremist content in their feed or elsewhere. They didn’t ask for it; it just got injected into their social lives slowly because of the way things work. It could be some page or their contacts might support and share such content via posts and stories. In other words, this content isn’t directly coming from the organization itself.
It feels like you start hanging out with a bunch of people who have a particular interest and soon you develop an interest in it. Also, speaking about people, some share content to overcome the social stigma, and in turn, they also contribute to the influence.
Where does it end?
Now, whether someone gets influenced and starts following or disliking an organization should ideally depend on their individual thought process. It doesn’t seem to be the case that merely seeing related content would turn anyone into a Taliban follower or critic. But everything that tries to influence you does leave some effect on you.
Not exactly related but we have numerous examples of people initially disliking cringe content but repeated explore changes the point of view in various cases.
For now, we should be aware of what we are seeing and sharing on our social handles. Is your content causing a good or bad impact on society? This is the question that we need to answer.