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Afghanistan temporarily blocks Social Media Services Whatsapp and Telegram citing security concerns

The restrictions on social media come as the Taliban intensifies attacks on Afghan security forces, inflicting heavy casualties.

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Whatsapp and Telegram
A WhatsApp logo is seen behind a smartphone, Feb. 20, 2014. Authorities in Afghanistan are temporarily blocking WhatsApp and Telegram social media services in the country. VOA

Islamabad, November 4, 2017 : Authorities in Afghanistan are temporarily blocking WhatsApp and Telegram social media services in the country, citing security concerns, officials confirmed on November 3.

An official at the Afghan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, ATRA, told VOA the social media tools will be suspended for 20 days. The temporary ban on Whatsapp and Telegram follows a request from state security institutions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a formal announcement is expected Saturday.

Whatsapp and Telegram
The messaging app Telegram is displayed on a smartphone, July 15, 2017. VOA

ATRA has ordered telecom companies to shut down the services November 1, according to a copy of official instructions appearing in Afghan media.

Social media users have complained of technical problems while using the two services in recent days.

The controversial move has sparked criticism of the Afghan government, and it is being slammed as an illegal act and an attack on freedom of expression.

The outage prompted the telecom regulator to issue a statement Friday, saying the ban is meant to test “a new kind of technology” in the wake of users’ complaints.

It went on to defend the restriction, saying WhatsApp and Telegram are merely voice and messaging services and their temporary suspension does not violate the civil rights of Afghans. The government is committed to freedom of expression, the ministry added.

Afghan journalists and activists on Twitter dismissed the statement.

“This seems to be the beginning of government censorship. If it’s not resisted soon the gov’t will block FB & twitter,” wrote Habib Khan Totakhil on Twitter.

“Gov’t fails to deliver security, now it seeks to hide its incompetence by imposing ban on messaging platforms. Totalitarianism?,” said the Afghan journalist.

“#Censorship is against what freedom we stood for in #Afghanistan post 2001. Gains shouldn’t go to waste,” tweeted activist Nasrat Khalid.

An estimated 6 million people in war-torn Afghanistan can access internet-based services. The growth of media and social media activism have been among the few success stories Afghanistan has seen in the post-Taliban era.

Classifying numbers

The restrictions on social media come as the Taliban intensifies attacks on Afghan security forces, inflicting heavy casualties.

The insurgent group also relies heavily on WhatsApp and Telegram, Twitter and Facebook to publicize its battlefield gains.

The Afghan government has lately barred the United States military from releasing casualty numbers, force strength, operation readiness, attrition figures and performance assessments of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, while briefing members of Congress on Wednesday, severely criticized the classification move. He maintained American taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.

“The Taliban know this [Afghan casualties], they know who was killed. They know all about that. The Afghans know about it, the U.S. military knows about it. The only people who wouldn’t know are the [American] people who are paying for it,” Sopko noted.

The United States has spent nearly $120 billion on reconstruction programs in Afghanistan since 2002. More than 60 percent of the money has been used to build Afghan security forces. (VOA)

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The Solution By WhatsApp Is Not Enough To Stop The Spread of Fake News

WhatsApp is running an educational campaign against fake news on newspaper and radio, and not on its own messaging platform through which lies actually spread.

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WhatsApp is running an educational campaign against fake news on newspaper and radio, and not on its own messaging platform through which lies actually spread. Pixabay

Narrating the impact of fake news and propaganda disseminated through WhatsApp, election consultant Shivam Shankar Singh in his new book, says the solutions proposed by the platform to prevent rumour mongering seem inadequate.

In “How To Win An Indian Election”, Singh who managed BJP’s assembly poll campaigns in Manipur and Tripura says messages containing the words “if true” and “forwarded as received” do little to make the recipients question their authenticity.

“WhatsApp is running an educational campaign against fake news on newspaper and radio, and not on its own messaging platform through which lies actually spread,” he says.

“Such campaigns are unlikely to reach the audience that is the most vulnerable to WhatsApp forwards,” says Singh who entered the field of political consultancy with Prashant Kishor’s team at the Indian Political Action Committee.

He also says restricting the number of groups that a person can forward a message to is also unlikely to be effective because most end recipients don’t have too many accounts to forward the messages to.

“They usually just forward it to their family and friends, and can easily copy-paste the content. These users aren’t forwarding it out of malicious intent; they’re doing it because they believe it to be true and they want the information to reach a larger audience so that people can be informed,” he says.

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He also says restricting the number of groups that a person can forward a message to is also unlikely to be effective because most end recipients don’t have too many accounts to forward the messages to. Pixabay
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“WhatsApp is running an educational campaign against fake news on newspaper and radio, and not on its own messaging platform through which lies actually spread,” he says.  Pixabay

To establish his point, the author shares the example of right-wing WhatsApp groups that consist of people who truly believe that Muslims are bad for India and that they harbour anti-national sentiments.

“I’ve interacted with several such BJP supporters over the years. Ask them if they hate Muslims and many of them would candidly say ‘yes’, and ask them if they think Muslims aren’t as loyal to the country as Hindus, almost all would say ‘yes’,” he notes in the book published by Penguin Random House India.

Singh contends that such prejudices mean when people who already mistrust Muslims receive WhatsApp forwards about Muslims shouting pro-Pakistan slogans, murdering people, smuggling cattle, raping women and committing crime, they will probably believe them without any kind of verification.

“Fake news is usually intermixed with real news and sent to people over months to influence their opinion,” says Singh maintaining “politics at its core is the art of influencing public opinion”.

According to Singh’s assertions in the book, winning elections in India requires a political party or a politician to exercise some control over public opinion.

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He says such control is also required after winning an election, because “reforming a system requires a favourable public opinion, which can only be garnered through constant messaging and propaganda”.

He says social media, in the recent years, has emerged as one of the most effective tools in shaping public discourse and influencing what people talk about. (IANS)