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Twitter 2.0 signal boosts Taliban 2.0 through Blue subscriptions

Well well well, if it isn't the consequences of your actions

Comment Like whack-a-mole, it seems that for every issue Elon Musk believes he has fixed in his pursuit of Twitter 2.0 paradise, another one pops its head up. In this case, the unintended consequences of Musk's actions are that Taliban 2.0 has bought Twitter Blue subscriptions.

Or maybe they are intended. Twitter CEO (yes, still) Musk hails himself as a "free speech absolutist" after all, but does a regime that thinks public hanging, stoning, and hand amputation are "very necessary" sit right with a website trying to be the "digital town square"? Unless users want it to be a town square with a corpse hanging in the corner, that is.

We all must be familiar with Twitter Blue by now. In an attempt to boost revenue, having chased advertisers away in their droves (another unintended consequence of Musk's actions), the company began charging users $8 monthly ($11 if through an iPhone) for a coveted blue tick, which used to indicate that an account was who it said it was. They were difficult to get.

Now anyone can have one, it's lost all meaning, and Twitter has had to roll out a bunch of other colored ticks anyway to fill the gap left by the old verification function. The purpose of the subscription tick is that you "rocket to the top replies, mentions and search" and see "half" the ads (coming soon) among other features. But the main thing is that you can have a voice in the town square if you pay for it, which is the literal opposite of free speech.

Yesterday the BBC reported: "At least two Taliban officials and four prominent supporters in Afghanistan are currently using the checkmarks." The British news organization pointed to the accounts of Hedayatullah Hedayat, head of the Taliban's department for access to information, and Abdul Haq Hammad, head of the media watchdog at the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture.

By Tuesday, the ticks on those accounts had mysteriously disappeared, though at the time of writing some remain, like that of Mobin Khan, said to be a spokesman for the Kabul security department.

No accounts associated with the Taliban were verified under pre-Musk Twitter, though Donald Trump complained while launching his Truth Social platform: "We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced."

On that note, a prominent Taliban supporter tweeted:

So there could be a couple of things going on here: Twitter is either deactivating the subscriptions or the Taliban themselves voluntarily canceled the feature. We asked Twitter for its policy on signal boosting members of what is widely considered to be a terrorist organization, but do not expect a response because, well, layoffs.

While AK-47-toting medievalists are what we see on TV, Taliban 2.0, which seized back Kabul in 2021, has never been more tech-savvy. Their embracing of modernity was arguably driven by the US military campaign in response to 9/11, which forced them to adopt mobile communications. The Taliban formerly advocated a return to Sharia law as they believed it had been in the 7th century, when Islam was founded, and an outright rejection of the trappings of contemporary life – including technology.

This reignited push into Twitter can be interpreted as another attempt to seed propaganda among the population that has been ongoing since the fall of Kabul.

But reports out of Afghanistan are sobering. One journalist today posted pictures from an event said to be at a football stadium in Kandahar where four people had their hands amputated for theft and five were flogged for having illicit relationships. And former Afghan MP Mursal Nabizada –  one of the few female MPs who stayed in Kabul after the Taliban seized power in August 2021 – has apparently been shot dead at her home in Kabul, along with her bodyguard, Afghan police said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the Chief Twit announced: "Kudos to the BBC for self-labelling its state affiliation," which is obviously intended to be a backhanded compliment. The BBC is funded by British households to the tune of £159 ($194) a year and strives "to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain." The "state" does not have a hand in its coverage. ®

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