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1 May 2012

Why is the Taliban seen to be adopting more of a PR and social media approach?

Tim Gibbon, director Elemental By Tim Gibbon

Image from Against Violent Extremism websiteIs it a surprise that the Taliban are embracing the world of social media to research, reach and promote to its audiences? Lets not fall into the false sense of security that social media wouldn’t be attractive to a range of individuals and groups regardless of whether their motives are sinister or not. Lets also not get ahead of ourselves as we’ve discussed many times before social media isn’t new and from our experience it’s been present within digital environments for longer than many realise. It stands to reason that the Taliban has been using the Web and related technologies well before now, adapting as necessary and opening up to more platforms as they evolve.


A BBC article highlights how the Taliban is using Facebook, a Q&A section on its website and other platforms to interact with individuals in what appears to be a very considered public relations approach. That’s right, you’ve read it correctly - the Taliban is embracing PR; no doubt taking a few leaves out the books of propaganda experts. There is a saying that is often used in the world of technology; “adapt or die” (which has a bitter taste given the subject matter and here) we’re seeing an approach in how even the most extreme of examples can find a niche to reach its target audience.


The Q&A section on the Voice of Jihad website (the official site of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban self-called name for its movement) is a relatively recent feature, with the BBC reporting it was added in February. The site affords the Taliban the platform to have conversations with its audiences, existing and potential (both local and further a field) and respond to questions across a variety of subject matter. The cynical minded could surmise that this could be an attempt to soften areas of comms to present different sides of that the website strives to achieve – creating entertaining stories from the world of media.


It has long been debated that future wars will be digital and virtual, and this certainly seems to be the reality that is being played out right now. If the article by The Guardian is an indication of what may transpire, cyber warfare will be high on the agenda of both sides (and many fractions in between).


In fact, on the other side of the fence Google is providing funding for two years for a new social network called, “Against Violent Extremism” The site aims to link up former terrorists and radicals as well as victims in an effort to combat extremism, and is thought it will have over a thousand individuals collaborating.

Image from Against Violent Extremism website


It will be interesting to see how developments unfold, indeed how audiences, governments, social networks and the web at large react in managing and being exposed to such sensitive communications. As the thirst for technology grows there aren’t any other more effective ways in reaching mass populations than the web. What is more concerning for governments is this can be done anonymously, perfect for propaganda, especially when finding and shutting them down becomes a challenge in itself.


An awful lot of messaging and propaganda was done “under the radar” so to speak, not accessible to the masses before, even though the communities and digital environments have been in existence for decades. The hype around social media certainly draws attention to how different groups on either side may use social media to champion causes, acting a catalyst that makes them more visible. What remains to be seen is whether these communications become lost in the increase of noise that we’re all exposed to, whether it’s via social media channels or more traditional means and if they strike a cord.


For now, the world just became that little bit more complicated.


A version of this article first appeared on Technorati.

Categories: Technology, Social media, News, Marketing

Tags: Taliban, social media, pr, Facebook, Google, social networks, terrorists, extremism, propaganda

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