A leader of the militant group has praised Twitter for its ‘tolerance’ and commitment to freedom of speech
Mark Zuckerberg’s new social media platform, Threads, recently surpassed 100 million users in less than five days, putting it on track to overtake Elon Musk’s Twitter, where traffic is reportedly “tanking”. This might sound like the season finale of a particularly boring corporate drama (sadly, the cage fight arc looks unlikely to come to a head) but Elon still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Namely: hate speech and posting hole.
Yes, Meta’s strict content guidelines, which are essentially copy-pasted from Instagram, could be a lifeline for Twitter. In fact, many commentators (not all of them right-wing) are already criticising Threads for having censorship baked into its design. Zuck himself hints at justifications for such restrictions when he says that “kindness” and “keep[ing] it friendly” should be a key focus of the app, but we’ve also seen the harmful effects of such censorship in the past, from the banning of sex-positive accounts, to the suppression of Palestinian activists.
Elon Musk, on the other hand, has long touted Twitter as a bastion of “free speech” (unless he personally thinks you’re being a big meanie). This might account for the bump in anti-Semitic content and racist, homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic slurs following the SpaceX billionaire’s buy-out. Some might also argue that this is a price worth paying to avoid sliding into an authoritarian hellscape designed by companies like Meta, even despite the strong links between online hate speech and IRL violence. It’s a long-established tightrope walk between freedom and security.
When people say they want free speech, though, they very rarely mean that they want absolute free speech, where anyone can say anything without suffering any consequences. Instead, there are some generally-accepted exclusions, such as obscenity, fraud, threats, and incitement to violence. Platforming a group like the Taliban – a militant Islamist group that has banned women from education and committed countless acts of violence against civilians – should presumably fall under several of these categories.
Nevertheless. This week (July 10), the Taliban leader and negotiator Anas Haqqani – who has personally defended the restriction of women’s rights to education – praised Musk’s social platform for its tolerance, which has allowed the group to thrive and spread its message. “Twitter has two important advantages over other social media platforms,” he wrote. “The first privilege is the freedom of speech. The second privilege is the public nature & credibility of Twitter.”
“Twitter doesn’t have an intolerant policy like Meta,” the tweet (which has been viewed over 2.3 million times) continues. “Other platforms cannot replace it.”
In most cases, Elon would have reason to celebrate such an endorsement amid the increasingly-urgent battle against Threads. But not from a member of the Taliban. Unfortunately, it’s not Twitter’s first encounter with the group, either. While the Taliban is banned from rival services such as Facebook, Instagram, Threads, and TikTok, it has maintained a presence on Twitter since before Musk’s takeover. Earlier this year, it was revealed that members were buying blue ticks to increase their legitimacy on the platform, though the verification symbols were removed after backlash.
It remains to be seen whether the most recent Taliban endorsement will make a dent in Musk’s free speech policies, with any significant changes likely to harm his position in the fight against Threads.