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Updated on: Saturday, August 21, 2021, 10:48 AM IST

Virtual crackdown? Official Taliban websites go offline, WhatsApp also removes number of groups

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, said via email that she hoped the removal of the Taliban websites is just a first step to diminishing its online presence | Representative Photo

Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group, said via email that she hoped the removal of the Taliban websites is just a first step to diminishing its online presence | Representative Photo

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Boston: The official websites of the Taliban, who swept to power in Afghanistan last week, that delivered the victorious insurgents' official messages to Afghans and the world at large in five languages appeared to have vanished from the internet on Friday.

All five sites operated in various languages, including Pashto, Dari, Urdu, Arabic and English, which are all spoken by people in Afghanistan and neighboring regions. It is not immediately clear why the sites, shielded by Cloudflare, a San Francisco-based content delivery network and denial-of-service protection provider, went offline.

Cloudflare has not issued any statement over the websites going offline. The company has been staunchly against censoring or taking down websites of its customers based on their content, but it has made some exceptions.

WhatsApp also removed a number of Taliban groups on Friday, according to Rita Katz, director of SITE Intelligence Group. The reported removal of the WhatsApp groups followed the banning of Taliban accounts by Facebook, the service's parent company, on Tuesday after the US-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban.

WhatsApp spokesperson Danielle Meister did not confirm the removal but referred a statement the company issued earlier this week saying it was "obligated to adhere to US sanctions laws. This includes banning accounts that appear to represent themselves as official accounts of the Taliban".

Katz said via email that she hoped the removal of the Taliban websites is just a first step to diminishing its online presence. Unlike the Taliban of 20 years ago that the US drove from power in Afghanistan, today's Taliban is immensely media savvy and its online infrastructure "inspires and mobilizes" al-Qaida and other extremist Islamist factions, said Katz.

Twitter has not removed Taliban accounts and the group's spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, has more than 300,000 followers there. The company indicated on Tuesday that as long as such accounts observe its rules -- including not inciting or glorifying violence -- they will remain up.

Facebook on Thursday unveiled new tools to help people in Afghanistan better secure their social media accounts amid reports that the Taliban have searched and seized phones looking for pictures of the Afghan army or recently collapsed Afghan government. Facebook had previously banned all Taliban content. Like Facebook, Google's YouTube considers the Taliban a terrorist organisation and prohibits it from operating accounts.

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Published on: Saturday, August 21, 2021, 10:48 AM IST
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