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Accounts impersonating female journalists share pro-Taliban content

Many of the impersonator accounts identified by Afghan Witness repeatedly use derogatory language toward the Afghan LGBTQIA+ community and attempt to defame activists and news anchors in exile.


28 Mar 2024

On 10 March 2024, journalist Sonia Niazi shared a video on X stating that a verified profile using her name was a fake account. She underscored that the content shared by this account, which had 39.9K followers, did not reflect her opinions as a journalist. The video was widely shared by activists, journalists, and media accounts on X and was also reported by Afghanistan International.

As a TV anchor, Niazi has consistently appeared on air wearing a mask, following the May 2022 Taliban mandate that requires women on TV to cover their faces. However, she has expressed opposition towards the policy as reported by AFP and BBC news. Her profile picture on her X account, where she posted the video on 10 March 2024, shows Niazi unmasked with a traditional head covering. Her cover photo similarly shows Niazi, alongside her female colleagues, with their heads covered but faces exposed.

Niazi joined X in September 2021. The page that shares pro-Taliban content, impersonating Niazi, joined the platform in June 2022. The profile picture in this latter account appears to be a screenshot from one of Niazi’s TOLOnews presentations. The impersonator account has also posted a voice note of Niazi. According to Niazi, this was recorded by the impersonator account while she was speaking in an X Space hosted by BBC Pashto.

Beyond this impersonator account, Afghan Witness (AW) investigators identified several additional accounts and usernames on X and Facebook, using Niazi’s name and pictures, all of which were found to be fake; many of these accounts boasted significant numbers of followers – higher than her own follower count.

Other fake accounts debunked

This was not the first time that a relatively well-known public figure has claimed that fake accounts are operating under their name. According to a report by Afghanistan International, Freshta Jalalzai, an Afghan-American journalist, claimed that there is a fake account being used under her name. The account appears to have been suspended after she posted about it on 17 March 2024.

The Afghanistan International report also mentioned Hasiba Atakpal, a former TOLOnews journalist. Atakpal posted a video on X on 26 October 2021 regarding fake accounts under her name. According to the report, one of the fake accounts using Atakpal’s name eventually changed its handle to @Hedayatullah111, and is currently owned by Hedayatullah Hedayat, the Deputy Director General of National Radio and Television Afghanistan, which is under Taliban control. AW analysts were unable to verify this claim. However, they observed that Hedayat’s account was created in 2020, yet its oldest post dates to 19 October 2022. Two further impersonator accounts using Atakpal’s name, with over 978 and 619 followers, were identified as part of AW’s investigation. These accounts, however, have been inactive since 2019, and both were created in 2018.

AW has tracked several other accounts impersonating activists and journalists on social media. Common patterns among these accounts are that they mostly pretend to be female – all female-presenting accounts have profile pictures in which the woman is wearing a niqab*– and that they share pro-Taliban content and imagery. These accounts typically have the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) flag as their cover image, and many currently feature the Palestinian flag. AW analysts also note that many of these impersonator accounts repeatedly use derogatory language toward the Afghan LGBTQIA+ community, target female journalists, and frequently attempt to defame activists and news anchors in exile, accusing them of promiscuity.

Yasamin Safi is another Shamshad TV anchor who appears to have fallen victim to pro-Taliban impersonator accounts on social media. On Facebook, Safi announced that an account, using the handle @Yasamin_safi, was impersonating her on X. This impersonator account, which has more than 2K followers, appeared to use a screenshot from one of Safi’s news broadcasts, published on Shamshad TV’s YouTube channel, as its profile picture. Moreover, this account appears to share pro-Taliban content, highlighting the activities of Taliban officials.

Alongside impersonator accounts, AW also uncovered several accounts that claimed to be Afghan women, using profile pictures of women taken from elsewhere on the internet, which share and promote pro-Taliban content. One of these accounts is Asma Wardak. While the account joined X in December 2023, AW determined that the image used as a profile picture was posted by a Pakistani user on 20 February 2023. The profile also includes a pinned picture of Taliban Defence Minister Mullah Yaqub, as well as a picture of a woman in a niqab holding a camera, with an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan flag photoshopped in the background. AW investigators found that the image of the woman was available on Pinterest and several other websites.

Similarly, AW analysts determined that the X account Sana Selgai features a profile picture of a woman used by multiple profiles on the internet. The account follows the same pattern of sharing pro-Taliban content and features images related to the Taliban’s Defence Ministry.


AW analysts have investigated a number of fake and impersonator accounts that post pro-Taliban content. The pervasive presence of fake social media accounts exploiting the names of prominent Afghan journalists and activists, very often women, highlights a concerning trend in Taliban propaganda tactics. Not only is public space for women increasingly limited in Afghanistan, but the online space that women occupy is also under threat. 

Moreover, the tactics employed by pro-Taliban individuals often aim to legitimise the Taliban’s activities. Speaking about the issue to Rukshana Media, Laila Basim, the head of the Spontaneous Protest Movement, said that by using female-named handles on social media, pro-Taliban messages are transmitted more quickly. This is because these messages, when spread by accounts claiming to be women, are seen as women in Afghanistan approving of Taliban policies. This contrasts with and undermines women’s protest movements in Afghanistan, and aims to paint them as representing Western, rather than local, interests.

The case of Sonia Niazi sheds light on the sophistication of these online campaigns. AW analysts note that the impersonator account made significant efforts to make the page look real by using imagery that appears to be personal, including a post featuring a newborn baby, and posts featuring Niazi’s voice, recorded from her professional broadcasts. In addition to spreading pro-Taliban propaganda, these impersonator accounts undermine female journalists operating in Afghanistan and sow confusion amongst their audiences.

*Head to toe coverage where only the eyes are visible.

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