ESOC Working Paper #30 - Powered by Twitter? The Taliban's Takeover of Afghanistan
On August 15, 2021, a spokesperson of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s self- proclaimed state, declared on Twitter: “With the help of God, and the support of the nation, we are now in control of all parts of the country. We would like to congratulate our nation on this big achievement.” After 20 years of conflict with U.S. and NATO coalition forces, no one predicted the speed with which the Taliban would consolidate power and precipitate the collapse of the Afghan government and military.
Presenting research conducted by the newly established Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Data, and Conflict (CAIDAC), this report explores social media’s central role in the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and the strategies used by the group to manipulate international and domestic audiences. It examines the Taliban’s social media strategy on Twitter throughout their takeover of Afghanistan, which culminated in the storming of Kabul on August 15, 2021.
Specifically, we studied the activity of 63 accounts claimed by the Taliban leadership, spokespersons, and avowed members from April 1 to September 16, 2021. These accounts had more than 2 million followers on Twitter in September 2021. As of May 8, 2022, Taliban content reaches more than 3.3 million accounts. We also examined the broader Taliban ecosystem, which included more than 126,000 Twitter accounts that either retweeted Taliban content or posted content subsequently shared by the Taliban’s core network. We found clear patterns in the group’s communication strategies, visual imagery deployed, and the timing and content of social media activity and events on the ground.
ESOC Working Paper 30