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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
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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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WhatsApp Sets A Forward Message Limit To 5 Chats

Media reports surfaced this week, claiming the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had asked telecom companies for ways to block social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram in case of threat to national security and public order.

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WhatsApp officially rolls out forward message limit for Indian users. Pixabay
WhatsApp officially rolls out forward message limit for Indian users. Pixabay

With the Indian government talking tough on WhatsApp’s failure to check the spread of fake and provocative content on its platorm, the instant messaging service on Wednesday said it has begun rolling out its forward message limit to five chats for over 200 million users in India.

The Facebook-owned platform last month announced to launch a test to limit message forwarding to five chats in India.

“The limit has started to appear this week for people in India who are on the current version of WhatsApp,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

In addition, the instant messasing app also published a new video to educate its users, saying it is expanding its user education campaign on how to spot fake news and hoaxes.

“This week, WhatsApp is publishing a new video that explains the importance of the ‘forward’ label and calls users to ‘double check the facts when you’re not sure who created the original message,'” said the company.

The Forward Message Limit Is Set To 5 Chats
The Forward Message Limit Is Set To 5 Chats

People forward more messages, photos, and videos in India than any other country in the world.

Globally, the company allows users to forward messages for up to 20 chats (either individuals or groups).

WhatsApp said that with new changes, which it will continue to evaluate, “will help keep WhatsApp the way it was designed to be: a private messaging app”.

“We are deeply committed to your safety and privacy which is why WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted, and we’ll continue to improve our app with features like this one,” it said in an earlier statement.

Media reports surfaced this week, claiming the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had asked telecom companies for ways to block social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Telegram and Instagram in case of threat to national security and public order.

Also Read: ‘Picture-In-Picture’ Mode Under Construction for Whatsapp

The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), however, said the government should look for “more effective” steps to curb fake news and maintain public order, instead of blocking mobile applications. (IANS)