Terrorists are no strangers to using social media for recruiting and spreading propaganda. Google, however, is trying to curb that tactic and has removed an app created by the Taliban from the Play Store for spreading hate speech.
The app, Alemarah, was being used by the group to publish propaganda, news and videos. Discovered on Friday, Google was quick to remove the app by Sunday evening but this surely won’t be the end of the group’s online efforts.
Google’s policies explicitly state that apps are not allowed to “advocate against groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” which is what Alemarah was doing.
Speaking to TNW, a Google spokesperson said: “While we don’t comment on specific apps, we can confirm that we remove apps from Google Play that violate our policies.”
The app was just one part of the Taliban’s digital campaign, which it is using to target a worldwide audience and gather support. It already has a website available in five languages and active accounts on Facebook and Twitter. They have had these taken down before but the group has always managed to get back online.
Of course, it had probably hoped the app would provide them with a more stable outlet.
Like the arguably more visible ISIS, the Taliban has a channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram, but with the likes of Anonymous keeping a close eye and disrupting the terrorist groups’ online plans, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for them to remain active.
ISIS also has its own Android app, which doesn’t appear to have been removed from the Play Store just yet. Perhaps this is because the ISIS app, Alrawi, is a messaging platform, so it’s technically not broadcasting hate speech or propaganda in the same manner as the Taliban’s news app.
However, a reporter from Bloomberg has said that a representative for the Taliban has confirmed to him that the app went offline because of technical issues and will be live again soon.
@AnujChopra Taliban’s Mujahed just confirmed their app w/ me, saying some “technical issues” led to the removal of the app & will be fixed!
— Eltaf Najafizada (@EltafN) April 3, 2016
Social networks are often criticised for not doing enough to cull the accounts of terrorists as they become more and more sophisticated on the Web, and it really is a growing problem.
Earlier this year, heads from Apple, Facebook and Twitter, among others, attended a meeting with federal policymakers in the US to address the issue. Short of being vigilant and removing everything as it crops up, it’s going to remain a longstanding issue for tech companies to curb this kind of use of its platforms.
If it was possible for larger organizations like Facebook or Google to intercept terrorists before they manage to get posts online, it would require mass surveillance, which isn’t likely to be successful without snooping on pretty much everyone.
So, despite Google’s best efforts, this isn’t the last we’ll see of the insurgent groups’ app or any others. As it stands, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, YouTube, WhatsApp, Telegram, Tumblr and many others, are unwillingly facilitating the global spread of terrorism.