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How the Taliban Turned Social Media Into a Tool for Control – The New York Times

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In the 1990s, they banned the internet. Now they use it to threaten and cajole the Afghan people, in a sign of how they might use technology to build power.

In one video, a Taliban official reassured female health workers that they could keep their jobs. In another, militants told Sikhs, a minority religious group, that they were free and protected. Still others suggested a new lawfulness in Kabul, with Talib fighters holding looters and thieves at gunpoint.

The Taliban, who banned the internet the first time they controlled Afghanistan, have turned social media into a powerful tool to tame opposition and broadcast their messages. Now firmly in control of the country, they are using thousands of Twitter accounts — some official and others anonymous — to placate Afghanistan’s terrified but increasingly tech-savvy urban base.

The images of peace and stability projected by the Taliban contrast sharply with the scenes broadcast around the world of the chaotic American evacuation from the Kabul airport or footage of protesters being beaten and shot at. They demonstrate the digital powers the militants have honed over years of insurgency, offering a glimpse of how the Taliban could use those tools to rule Afghanistan, even as they cling to their fundamentalist religious tenets and violent proclivities.

Afghan social media may be a poor indicator of public sentiment. Many of the Taliban’s critics and supporters of the U.S.-backed government have gone underground. But already, with a social media campaign in recent weeks that may have helped encourage Afghan security forces to put down their weapons, the Taliban have shown that they can effectively sell their message.

“They recognized that to win the war, it had to be done through narratives and stories,” said Thomas Johnson, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. “In urban areas all Afghans have smartphones, and I think it’s going to be very useful. They’re going to use social media to tell the Afghan people what they need to do.”

Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Online, the Taliban will now be targeted by some of the same tactics they used to cement their power, just as movements like the Arab Spring and others used social media to organize and rally. Afghanistan’s new communications tethers with the rest of the world will help the Taliban’s opponents expose any atrocities and drum up support for the resistance. Already, hashtags like #DonotChangeNationalFlag are spreading, with some combination of internal and external support.

The Taliban have responded to such calls — and to reports of crackdowns and reprisal killings by the victorious militants — with messages stressing a desire for peace and unity. The Taliban portray Americans and other foreigners as the primary cause of years of conflict — an idea that they have emphasized by using the startling images this week from the Kabul airport.

As shots of desperate refugees clinging to planes circulated, one of the best-known pro-Taliban influencers, Qari Saeed Khosty, struck a tone of doleful sympathy.

“I cried hard to see your situation. You, the friends of the occupation, we have similarly cried for you for 20 years. We told you that Tommy Ghani will never be loyal to you,” he wrote in a Twitter post, using slang for a person who adopts Western styles and customs to refer to Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president who fled this week. “We have forgiven you, I swear to Allah. We are not for this situation. Please come back to your homes.”

Still, the Taliban — a group known during its 1996-2001 rule for public executions, sometimes by stoning — have largely kept their messages upbeat. Taliban citizen journalists ply the streets of newly captured cities with blue-capped microphones, offering videos of bland endorsement from residents.

“The Taliban don’t need to post content to remind the population they are brutal,” said Benjamin Jensen, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The population knows that. What they needed were images that showed they could govern and integrate the country.”

The Taliban have been able to post much of what they want online. Even as blocks on major social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube persist, dozens of new accounts have sprung up. The militants’ efforts have focused on Twitter, where the Taliban are not directly barred.

Some Taliban opponents have issued rallying cries. By contrast, others have fallen silent and scrubbed their accounts of material that could put them in danger. A female soccer player this week warned her former teammates to take photos down. Facebook and Twitter have said they would take steps to shield accounts.

A teacher at Nangarhar University in Jalalabad who requested anonymity said a large number of his students who had taken part in anti-Taliban campaigns had deactivated their social media accounts. The generation born after the Taliban’s first regime toppled had a lifetime of digital evidence to conceal, he said.

The Afghanistan of today is a far cry from the place where the internet was banned in 2001. Under the U.S.-backed government, cell towers went up across the country. Mobile phone users jumped to more than 22 million in 2019 from just one million in 2005, according to Statista, a market research firm. Experts estimate that 70 percent of the population has access to a mobile phone.

Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Today, the Taliban would struggle to block messages from the outside, as China and Russia do, without time and outside help. In place of deletions and bans, they have flooded social media with their own messages.

The Taliban were quick to view the internet as a new tool of propaganda, an extension of written messages and guerrilla radio stations. They grew accustomed to restoring websites after hosting services dropped them, and they often experimented, using techniques like text-message blasts. One report showed how they used trending hashtags to intimidate voters during a 2019 election.

To gain foreign acceptance in recent weeks, Taliban leaders put out messages in English and livestreamed press events. Their official website, Al-Emarah, publishes in English, Pashto, Dari, Urdu and Arabic.

The Taliban are building on lessons learned during the summer offensive that swept the group into power, said one member of the Taliban social media committee, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak.

Fast and clever messaging was a key part of the offensive, he said, pointing out that the Taliban trained and equipped soldiers with microphones and smartphones to report from the front lines as their forces swept into new territory. The messaging, a mix of amnesty offers and intimidation that was designed to create the sense of an inevitable victory, may have helped hasten a process of coercion and persuasion that led to many of the best-defended cities falling without fighting.

“Smartphones have been a very successful Taliban weapon,” said Abdul Sayed, an independent researcher who focuses on the group’s social media tactics. “They all have a special love for smartphones now.”

Wakil Kohsar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

On Friday last week, when Taliban forces took the key city of Herat, they distributed images and videos of militia leaders posing with Ismail Khan, a well-known local commander and Taliban opponent, showing him unrestrained and appearing at ease.

The message was clear, Mr. Sayed said: “If we can treat Ismail Khan, a top enemy, with such respect, there will not be danger for anyone.”

In Kabul, many Taliban-trained journalists have been busy on the streets, often holding a microphone with the logo of the group’s propaganda site. In one video posted to the Twitter account of the Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, a reporter interviews residents in Kabul’s Shahr-e Naw area. When he asks a young boy about the takeover of the capital, the boy responds, “We are happy and have been living in peace.”

While some have responded positively to the messaging, the digital transfer of power has sent a shock across Afghanistan’s best-connected cities. Many of the voices that would once argue back against Taliban posts have gone silent for fear of retribution. Digital rights groups have said many people with ties to the former government or the United States have closed social media profiles, left chat groups and deleted old messages.

When Mr. Mujahid announced a news conference in a widely used WhatsApp journalist group this week, some members dropped out of the chat. One, who worked for foreign media and who asked for anonymity, fearing retaliation, said journalists who had written critically about the Taliban were worried about a backlash.

Even so, social media carried some signs of resistance. On Tuesday, a video of a small group of women protesting in Kabul in the presence of Taliban fighters was shared widely. The next day, videos of an incident in Jalalabad, in which the Taliban opened fire on a group of youths who had removed the militants’ flag and replaced it with that of the fallen Afghan government, went viral.

The Nangarhar University teacher said he didn’t believe the new generation that grew up in Kabul under the ousted government would easily accept the Taliban’s rule, and he expected new waves of online resistance before long.

“I fear that the Taliban will restrict social media soon because of it,” he said.

Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

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Media Advisory: Ministers Stoodley and Davis to Attend Run for Women in Support of Stella's Circle – News Releases – Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

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On Sunday, June 26 the Honourable Sarah Stoodley, Minister of Digital Government and Service NL and the Honourable Bernard Davis, Minister of Environment and Climate Change, will attend the LOVE YOU’ by Shoppers Drug Mart Run for Women, in support of women’s mental health programs at Stella’s Circle.

The event is set to begin at 8:45 a.m. at Quidi Vidi Lake, 115 The Boulevard, St. John’s.

The Run for Women is held in 18 cities throughout Canada and focuses on Women’s Mental Health. Funds raised go to this year’s charity partner, Stella’s Circle, to specifically support programming at Naomi House and the Just Us Women’s Centre. The event also promotes physical movement as a means to creating better positive mental health outcomes.

-30-

Media contacts
Krista Dalton
Digital Government and Service NL
709-729-4748, 685-6492
kristadalton@gov.nl.ca

Lynn Robinson
Environment and Climate Change
709-729-5449, 691-9466
lynnrobinson@gov.nl.ca

2022 06 24
1:40 pm

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Newly appointed Toronto councillor resigns after controversial social media posts resurfaced – CTV News Toronto

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A newly installed Toronto councillor has resigned after her old social media posts, which appear to show homophobic content, were unearthed hours following her appointment.

Rosemarie Bryan was appointed by city council as the new councillor for Ward 1 – Etobicoke North during a special meeting on Friday, filling the vacancy left by Michael Ford, who ran in June’s provincial election and won.

After she was appointed, however, Bryan’s alleged past social media activities, which appears to show her sharing anti-LGBTQ content, were brought to light.

Friday was the start of the Pride Toronto’s Festival Weekend, which features the return of the Pride Parade to downtown streets on Sunday following a two-year hiatus.

Several councillors posted to social media that had they known about Bryan’s posts, they would not have voted for her to fill the seat.

“A majority of councillors would have never this (way) had this information been brought forward. We relied too heavily on the recommendation being made by former councillor,” Coun. Mike Layton tweeted.

“We need to reopen this debate.”

Of the 23 councillors who cast their ballots, 21 voted for Bryan, including Mayor John Tory.

Coun. Josh Matlow, one of the two councillors who did not vote for Bryan, called for her resignation, tweeting that he does not believe “anyone who supports hate and bigotry should be a Toronto city councillor, or hold any public office for that matter. This is disgraceful.”

On Friday night, Bryan released a statement announcing that she is resigning, saying it’s the best way to continue serving those who love and support her in Etobicoke North.

Bryan said she is devastated that her past online posts are being “thrown against my decades of commitment to the community.”

“I recognize councillors were not aware of those posts before today’s discussion and now that they are, I recognize many would not have cast their vote for me. I don’t want to hurt all those who supported me and I remain committed to helping my community in any and every way I can,” she said.

In a statement, Tory said while Bryan made a “strong case” to council for her appointment, her past social media posts are “not acceptable.”

“I totally disagree with any homophobic or transphobic views. I absolutely support our 2SLGBTQ+ residents. City Councillors are expected to set an example when it comes to consistency with our shared values,” Tory said.

“I would not have voted for this appointment had I been aware of these posts and I know that is the sentiment of the vast majority of council who also voted today.”

He said it was appropriate for Bryan to resign.

“The upset this has caused everyone involved is extremely unfortunate. This is especially unfortunate on the very weekend when we are celebrating the progress we have made together,” Tory said, adding that he has asked staff to review the overall appointment process.

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S.Korean leader's informal media events are a break with tradition – SaltWire Halifax powered by The Chronicle Herald

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By Soo-hyang Choi

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean leader Yoon Suk-yeol has departed from years of tradition by holding informal daily media events to field questions on topics ranging from inflation and ties with neighbouring North Korea to the first lady and even boyband BTS.

Such wide-ranging access to the president was previously unheard of. It stems from Yoon’s decision to move his office out of the official Blue House, whose previous occupants largely steered clear of such interactions over more than seven decades.

“It’s apparently helping Yoon dispel worries about his lack of political experience and giving him a sense of where public opinion is at,” said Eom Kyeong-young, a political commentator based in the capital, Seoul.

Yoon, a former prosecutor-general, entered politics just a year ago, before winning the presidency in March by a margin of just 0.7%, the narrowest in South Korea’s history.

Upon his inauguration in May, Yoon moved the presidential office to the compound of South Korea’s defence ministry, describing the official residence as the symbol of an “imperial presidency”, and vowing not to “hide behind” his aides.

His liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, had rarely held news conferences, and almost always filtered his communication with the media, and the public, through layers of secretaries.

Analysts see Yoon’s daily freewheeling sessions as part of a broader communications strategy that lets him drive policy initiatives and present himself as a confident, approachable leader.

The campaign has also allayed public suspicions about the newcomer to politics, they say.

Polls show the new strategy helping to win support and much-needed political capital for Yoon in his effort to hasten recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, in a parliament dominated by the opposition Democratic Party.

Although Yoon’s approval rating dipped to 47.6% in a recent survey, slightly lower than the disapproval figure of 47.9%, another June poll showed communication was the reason most frequently cited by those who favoured him.

“The sweeping victory of Yoon’s conservative party in June local elections shows the public is not so much against the new administration,” said Eom.

Incumbents from Yoon’s People Power Party (PPP) defeated challengers for the posts of mayor in the two biggest cities of Seoul and the port city of Busan in that contest, while its candidates won five of seven parliamentary seats.

Eom attributed Yoon’s low approval rating from the beginning of his term to inflation risks that threaten to undermine an economic recovery and his lack of a support base as a new politician.

But some critics say Yoon’s sessions raise the chances that he could make mistakes.

“He could make one mistake a day,” Yun Kun-young of the opposition party wrote on Facebook last week, saying the new practice could be “the biggest risk factor” for the government.

The presidential office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Yoon has already faced criticism for controversial remarks made during the morning briefings, such as one in defence of his nominee for education minister, who has a record of driving under the influence of alcohol years ago.

But the daily meetings and public reaction would ultimately help the government to shape policy better, said Shin Yul, a professor of political science at Myongji University in Seoul.

“It might be burdensome for his aides for now, but will be an advantage in the long term,” Shin said. “A slip of the tongue cannot be a bigger problem than a policy failure.”

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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