Potential pro-Taliban bot involvement on eve of Afghanistan Troika summit
AW detected what appears to be a coordinated inauthentic effort on Twitter to target the meeting with multiple hashtags.
12 Nov 2021
As representatives from the extended ‘Troika’ prepared to meet in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Afghan Witness (AW) detected what appears to be a coordinated inauthentic effort on Twitter to target the meeting with multiple hashtags - the second time an international summit has seemingly been targeted in such a way in recent months.
The meeting of the ‘Troika-plus’ group was held on the 11th November, and included representatives from the Taliban, as well as Pakistan, China, Russia, and the US. The summit was held in an attempt to ease severe pressure on Afghanistan's banking system, which is paving the way to economic collapse and a refugee crisis.
The hashtags #My_Country_My_System and # نظام_زما_هیواد_زما started on 8th November, with the number of tweets mentioning the hashtags peaking on 9th November.
Several Twitter accounts using the variants of the Haqqani name, a prominent grouping that is part of the Taliban, used the hashtag. The tweets did not necessarily relate to the Troika or international affairs, for example:
Ministry of Water and Energy: After the evaluation, the work of the country's projects will begin Mullah Abdul Latif Mansour, head of the Ministry of Water and Energy, who is on an official visit to Zabul, said in a meeting with the head of the province's maritime sector that after the assessment, work on projects across the country would begin. #My_country_My_system.
According to AW investigations, the hashtags appear to be being used by bots to boost their usage. One example of such bot accounts is @unn8H9EyUd628Bq, which has 200 followers, and used both hashtags in a tweet, stating:
Our country is stronger and more self-reliant than ever before in terms of military, professional and superpower strength. This is the army that will protect our land and our honor from foreigners at any cost. They have sacrificed their blood for the defense of religion and homeland. System_My_Country_My#زما_هېواد_زما_نظام#.
The same account used the two hashtags multiple times. In another tweet, the account stated:
This country is our home and soil, no one has the right to impose their own system on us. We built the system here voluntarily and carried it out voluntarily. Every enemy should know that every individual of this system will stand firm against it, God willing #نظام_زما_هېواد_زما #My_country_My_system.
It is the second time Taliban-supporting Twitter accounts have used hashtags to drive a pro-Taliban agenda around an international summit, the previous time being around a meeting on 20th October in Moscow. While attribution is difficult, the common TTPs between the two incidents suggest they are related and likely organised by the same group, which appears to align with Taliban interests.
Social media has played a significant role in the Taliban’s mobilisation of communications in recent months. As the Taliban seized Kabul in August, they launched a comprehensive social media campaign to run alongside their military offensive on the ground - a clear acknowledgement of the digital age they must now adhere to.
The Taliban has previously told the BBC how its social media team have separate groups focused on Twitter, who attempt to get Taliban hashtags trending and ‘disseminate’ messages on WhatsApp and Facebook.
In the last week of October, AW noted that Taliban officials have increasingly taken to Twitter to deny responsibility for various incidents attributed to them in Afghanistan. This pushback suggests a shift in approach - Taliban officials had not responded to similar claims on social media in weeks prior to this.
While Facebook has designated the Taliban a "dangerous organisation" and frequently removes accounts and pages associated with them from its platforms, the group previously told the BBC that they were focusing instead on Twitter, where they have so far been able to publish freely.
AW will continue to monitor the group’s apparent use of bots and hashtags on the social media site.