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This article was published on August 18, 2021

WhatsApp blocks Taliban helpline channels after political pressure

Facebook said it's monitoring the situation actively

WhatsApp blocks Taliban helpline channels after political pressure
Ivan Mehta
Story by

Ivan Mehta

Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh." Ivan covers Big Tech, India, policy, AI, security, platforms, and apps for TNW. That's one heck of a mixed bag. He likes to say "Bleh."

WhatsApp has blocked the Taliban‘s helpline channels and few other groups from its service.

Over the last few days, the Taliban has taken the control of Kabul, and threw off the Afghanistan government. This has caused severe unrest in the country with several people trying to flee the country.

The group set up a helpline on WhatsApp for citizens to complain about violence, looting, and other law & order-related problems. As the Financial Times noted, it has used such helplines in the past.

WhatsApp’s owner Facebook told the FT that it has blocked “official Taliban channels,” and is actively looking for group names and descriptions to identify new ones cropping up. Plus, it’s taking the help of local language speakers to go through these groups. Notably, WhatsApp can’t see any messages exchanged on these groups as they are end-to-end encrypted. 

The social network came under pressure for not blocking the Taliban’s account as the group was taking over Afghanistan. However, it’s actively removing accounts even if they appear to be officially representing the Taliban.

Facebook told AFP that the company doesn’t take “decisions about the recognized government in any particular country but instead respects the authority of the international community.” With this statement, the company is trying to say it’s just following the US sanctions laws, and hasn’t taken any decision based on political pressure.

In a press conference last night, a Taliban spokesperson complained about Facebook and said that the company is restricting the group’s free speech.

The Taliban takeover came just weeks before the US military troops are set to withdraw from the country, after spending almost two decades battling various terrorist groups.

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