A “Twitter War with the Taliban”

As casual and trivial as modern social networking may seem, as it pertains to the younger generations, Facebook and Twitter are more effective news sources than both CNN and Fox News combined. Think about it. When Bin Laden was found and killed in Pakistan, were most Americans under the age of 25 tuned into their news station because they would have been already? Personally, I turned on CNN when I found out; but I found out when I logged into my Facebook account to see hundreds of status updates saying “God bless America” and “Bin Laden is Dead!”I would suspect this happened for a number of people, regardless of age or generation.

If you can accept this basic premise, you will also likely agree that the impact the perspective the news is portrayed in can have on those reading or watching it. For instance, If a United States bomb kills a Al-Qaeda leader in Afghanistan, but also kills 2 innocent Afghan civilians in the process, you can see the vast difference in a tweet that says “US drone kills Al-Qaeda leader suspected of planning 9/11 Attacks,” and one that says “American’s target civilians again: Mother and Child killed in their home in Kabul.”

The significance: A recent CNN article states that US forces in Afghanistan feel they are losing the information battle against the Taliban. In short, while the former Afghan regime cannot provide running water, sufficient education, or any semblance of legitimate government to their Afghan constituency… they can tweet. (Look at this pro-Taliban twitter feed.)

As the article lays out, this information is readily available to many Afghans. It is not a news organization and therefore its content is not subject to any regulations based on validity or truthfulness. But people believe what they hear. As the level of US support in Afghanistan is already lacking, this does not bode well for the US coalition in a war-torn nation. You can say “but its only facebook and twitter” if you want, but then ask yourself how many times you use social networking vs the amount of times you watch the news.

As one US Colonel said, “Being able to reach out and inform a younger generation is a key. The younger generation here is one of the cornerstones to the future success of Afghanistan.” And so, the “Twitter War” will continue, as both the @Taliban and the @US Forces battle for more Afghan followers.



  1. It is true that the younger generation is getting a lot of the news from social websites. I for one do not have a Twitter account but to be honest I am contemplating signing up. I too found out about Bin Laden’s death via Facebook. When I hear something is going on the first place I turn to is Facebook to check out every ones status to see what is going on. Then I check the news. I received Facebook status updates before my CNN, MSNBC and FOX news applications sent me push news feeds. It is interesting to check out the twitter feed provided above to see both sides of the situation going on in Afghanistan. Its amazing how one sided our news is, and how one sided their news is. Today the most frustrating part is that you have to follow all the different news networks to try to get the “middle” ground and try to piece together what you think the truth is. It’s exhausting.

  2. It should be concerning when our news and information is received through social media predicated on impulse. And worst off, as Joseph points out, many choose to believe what they will read. I don’t think, however, that there is a need to focus solely on the information posted on twitter by these types of groups, and practically every other group with an agenda for that matter. Statements and information passed through twitter and other related media raise concern due to the immediate and unregulated presentations of the speaker. Although I respect the power of misinformation and influence over the future generations in Afghanistan, I think this post speaks to the much larger issue of education, or lack thereof. Not a formal, ridiculously expensive $20k a semester education, but a common sense based and empowering education. One in which the individuals receiving the information learn to recognize the biases/agenda of the speaker, the potential for fabrication, and then consider the information for themselves. The downside is that the people then become more difficult to control, and experience indicates that this is never attractive to the powers that be (Hoping my sarcasm is apparent). I would hate to see the US engage with the Taliban in such an unconstructive finger pointing “war” through these social media but sadly I expect nothing less (Wouldn’t want to lose to the Taliban now would we?). Twitter is a secondary issue here, primarily the issue is misinformation and the inability of the masses to recognize it as such.

  3. This is a clever post. It’s called strategic communication, and it’s all about controlling the perception of your audience. It doesn’t matter that Taliban tweets are factually inaccurate, as it seems they most often are, because these tweets reach the Afghani people first. In this way, the Taliban have been able to offset clear losses on the battlefield with pro-Taliban support through effective social media propaganda.

  4. This post reminds me of one of the most important lessons I learned from a professor in undergrad about history books: ‘when you open a history book, find out who the author is. Then, realize that this is “their” history, or at least the argument in favor of the history their editors want them to publish. But, never forget that there is more than just one side, one understanding, one perspective. Normally, in any argument, there are three: his side, your side, and the truth.’ Here, we see a conflict at play between young and old – younger generations hit the media that is at their fingertips and not regulated. Could this be because the younger generation is more attune to the fact that we can get access to raw facts through Facebook and Twitter rather than the syphoned version on news channels? If the government and the Armed Forces are worried about reaching young people with information, they may want to start by giving the whole truth…and nothing but the truth. Nowadays, it is all about trusting your sources.

  5. It never really dawned on me that Twitter or Facebook updates would be used to spread government propaganda. On one hand, I associate Twitter or status updates with off-the-cuff musings (or in many cases ramblings), and on the other hand, I see Twitter as the new method in which an entire generation receives its news. The impact that social networking sites like Twitter can have on a nation and it’s politics is fascinating. Status updates from Twitter and Facebook played a huge role in bringing about the mass revolution that is the Arab Spring, and Chinese citizens are utilizing these websites in order to make the world aware of the Chinese government’s oppressive policies. However, since Twitter is not subject to any regulations based on validity or truthfulness, it might be more difficult for the younger generation in Afghanistan to actually decipher which facts are actually true. If young Afghans are receiving a majority of their news from Twitter updates and hear conflicting reports about the same event from the United States and the Taliban, how can they decide who to believe?

  6. Amy’s comment concerning the lesson she learned about history books and the importance of perspective hits the core of the problem that this post gets at. We would like to think that when the ordinary human being hears information, they question it for its truthfulness. As I think most people would agree, however, this is not the case. Many people believe whatever they hear, or trust the “history book” as fact without questioning its perspective. If only media outlets in general could limit the bias and publish the truth, we’d have much fewer problems. This would help us eliminate 2 of the 3 “stories” Amy referred to in her comment, and leave us with only what really happened: the truth.

  7. I was also informed of Bin Laden’s death via Facebook. Initially, Facebook was set up for social networking. But, Facebook increasingly has become an important source of the news. Ironically, Facebook users receive the news on the site’s “news feed. ” While the “news feed” contains your Facebook friends’ posts to each other and statuses, including their random opinions, pictures, schedules and quotes; recently Facebook users post links to news sources and stories that now pop up in our “news feed.”
    Why has Facebook become a young generation’s first news source?

    First, news channels now have their own Facebook pages and post information into their statutes, which end up in our “news feed.” Second, as stated above, people are using their statuses to post news stories and not to just post quotes and their schedule of the day. Third, people intentionally post opinions on current news stories in order to stir up a debate with their Facebook friends. Additionally, people are curious to see what certain Facebook users have to say about the recent hot news topic.

    As a result, Facebook will continue to be a forum for debate on the current news and in many cases a Facebook user’s first source of the news.

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