A report released on Monday by a U.K.-based rights group revealed that there has been a significant rise in online harassment and hateful language directed towards politically engaged women in Afghanistan since the Taliban gained control of the country in August 2021.
According to Afghan Witness, a project operated by the nonprofit organization Center for Information Resilience, there has been a significant increase in abusive posts. In fact, the number of such posts has tripled, showing a 217% rise between June and December of 2021 compared to the same time frame in 2022.
Using knowledge obtained from previous research conducted in Myanmar, the Afghan Witness group studied publicly accessible data from X (formerly known as Twitter) and conducted thorough interviews with six Afghan women. This was done to examine the type of online harassment occurring since the Taliban regained control.
The report stated that a group of investigators examined and studied more than 78,000 social media posts in Dari and Pashto, which are languages commonly used in Afghanistan. The posts were directed at nearly 100 accounts belonging to politically involved Afghan women.
According to the authors of the report, the interviews revealed that the proliferation of harmful content on the internet made women vulnerable targets. The individuals interviewed disclosed receiving messages containing explicit material, as well as threats of sexual assault and murder.
A woman interviewed by Afghan Witness stated that the animosity displayed on social media is no different than their true feelings in person.
Representatives of the Taliban government were not readily accessible for responding to the report.
The report found four common themes in the offensive posts: accusations of being sexually promiscuous; the belief that politically involved women went against cultural and religious customs; claims that these women were working for Western interests; and accusations of fabricating stories to obtain asylum in other countries.
Afghan Witness discovered that a majority of the online posts in 2022 contained sexualized language, with terms like “whore” or “prostitute” appearing in over 60% of the content.
According to Francesca Gentile, the project’s lead investigator, social media has shifted its purpose from a platform for social and political discourse to a tool for oppressing and mistreating individuals, particularly women, since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan.
In 2021, as American and NATO forces were withdrawing from Afghanistan after a 20-year war, the Taliban implemented strict measures that included prohibiting women from participating in public life and employment, and restricting girls from continuing their education past the sixth grade.
Gentile also stated that the Taliban’s mistreatment of women and disregard for their rights gives a green light to online harassers, making any woman who speaks out a target.
A female journalist, who requested to remain anonymous, revealed to Afghan Witness that she has deactivated some of her social media accounts and stopped reading comments. This has impacted her ability to connect with online sources for her work.
According to the report, the majority of individuals responsible for online harassment were men and came from various political affiliations, ethnicities, and backgrounds.