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Twitter analysis suggests Taliban uses bots, fake accounts to boost followers

By Najibullah


In a photo taken February 6, the Twitter page of Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid is pictured on a computer monitor at the Maiwand TV station in Kabul. [Wakil Kohsar/AFP]

KABUL -- The Taliban is likely using bots or fake accounts to boost its follower count on Twitter in an attempt to inflate the level of its support among Afghans, according to an analysis conducted by Salaam Times in late August.

A large number of anonymous -- and most likely fake -- accounts began following Taliban spokesmen on Twitter after the start of peace talks between the militants and the United States about seven months ago.

Some 15.5% of those following Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen have never tweeted, the analysis found. Of the total, 44.4% tweeted 10 times or less.


Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid blocks users who ask the spokesman questions about the group's brutalities. [File]

About 49% of the accounts following him are less than eight months old, coinciding when peace talks intensified in Qatar.

Meanwhile, of those following Zabiullah Mujahid, another Taliban spokesman, about 21% have never tweeted and 56% sent 10 tweets or less. Some 41% of his followers' accounts were created in the past seven months, and 5.75% were created just one month ago.

The same trend can be seen among the followers of Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi. More than 11% have never tweeted and 41% have tweeted 10 times or less. More than 57% of his followers' accounts were created in the past seven months, with 5.5% having been created in the past one month.

Similarly, 4.3% of the followers of a Twitter account of a Taliban propaganda website were created in less than one month. Some 26.5% were created seven months ago. Of the total, 61.1% tweeted 10 times or less and 18% never tweeted.

Based on the data of the Taliban's Twitter followers, the accounts that appear legitimate are based outside Afghanistan.

Fake accounts

"Some individuals and/or companies increase the number of followers of certain accounts in exchange for money" using bots or hired social media users, said Muhammad Bashir, a technology and social media analyst in Kabul.

"Fake accounts are mostly anonymous, or they have never tweeted," he said.

Groups such as the Taliban often use fake accounts in an attempt to inflate the following of their leaders, said Hamed Elmi, a reporter and former spokesperson for the Afghan President's Office.

"They also have followers who are associated with them and use different accounts; most of these devious people try to exaggerate about their leaders," said Elmi.

Some of the Taliban's spokespeople active on social media are non-existent in real life, Elmi added.

"Zabiullah Mujahid is active on social media platforms, but it is impossible for one person to publish everything simultaneously on [different] social media sites," said Elmi, referring to the supposed Taliban spokesman.

"I don't think it is one person because one can see the difference in some of the published messages," added Elmi. "In my personal view, various individuals make use of this name."

"This is a fact that everyone who is active on social media knows: the account that publishes on behalf of the Taliban's spokesperson is not associated with just one person but with a group of the Taliban," said Farid Ahmad Ahmadi, 25, a journalism student in Kabul, referring to Mujahid.

"For example, how is it possible for one person to make tens of tweets every day in Dari, Pashtu and English and receive updated news about their activities from various provinces and issue press releases on them?" asked Ahmadi.

"Go and investigate -- most of their [the Taliban's] accounts are fake, and they have no followers," said Muhammad Kabir Haqmal, spokesman for Afghanistan's National Security Council.

"They are waiting until one of them tweets so that the rest can retweet and favourite the message, but they can't reach their goals with such acts," Haqmal said.

Taliban deception

The Taliban's deception on Twitter is further evidence that the militants do not post anything other than propaganda on social media.

"The Taliban lie on social media... as they commit massacres and attack civilians' homes," said Fawad Aman, deputy spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence. "They [the Taliban] publish things that are all propaganda, and they always share inaccurate and wrong numbers."

"Most followers of the Taliban spokespeople on Twitter are a limited number of individuals who are associated with them," said Ahmadi, the journalism student. "If others ask a question and the Taliban don't have a response, they block them."

"Once I asked Zabiullah Mujahid on Twitter about a fake piece of news he published about our area," he added. "As he didn't have an answer, he blocked me. They always block everyone other than their own specific followers."

"None of the Taliban's messages in the media and social media is reliable because the group is founded upon fraud, deception and secrecy," said Fariba Latifi, a student of law and political science at a private university in Kabul.

"No one has seen the Taliban's leader since their inception, no one understands the reason behind the killing of Mullah [Mohammad] Omar and when he was killed, and now no one knows the group's spokesperson -- there is not even a photo of him out there," she added.

"It is clear to us that various individuals have access to the accounts of the Taliban's spokespeople and that the information they share is not trustworthy," she said. "They always share information filled with lies and hatred."

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But in Afghanistan where most of the people use Facebook, this group makes discussions and differences with other user about their posts. Even in some posts they insult each other. The names mostly look fictitious which are not the common Afghan names for example they are Abu Fulan, Fulan and Fulan, Dervish Talib and etc.


In my opinion, Taliban have many fans, but they are forced not to show themselves, because they will face problems. Most of their fans are from the areas under the government control, and when it comes to the following, the government follows them more than anyone else because they know that Taliban are not telling lies. The addresses of Taliban and the government media sources that we have followed, most of the Taliban's news are real. My writing does not belong to any group, it is only my own personal opinion.


Is anyone surprised that the Taliban lie and deceive? That is who they are.


Writer of 'Taliban Narratives: Taliban are successful in propaganda war

American writer, Thomas Johnson, who recently has written a book on Taliban's propaganda war, says that the United States of America has lost in the propaganda war against Taliban.

Afghan government also has failed in controlling Taliban's propaganda and their narratives in respect of Afghan war, adds Mr. Johnson who is also a professor at the United States' Naval Forces' university.

"In my opinion, if you would look at the insurgencies and internal wars that have occurred after world war II, you will see that usually the party of war which has echoed more the narration of war has got victorious," the American researcher told Voice of America in his talks.

Having and expressing only good information is not enough for winning the propaganda war, and this propaganda war should be strengthened with practical measures, he added.

"In the first step, the Afghan government should broaden its popularity in the villages by tackling corruption on the villages' level… In the second step, the government of Afghanistan should know that delivering messages on the national level is not a successful way. Kabul has to make its messages as per the demands of each and every village and neighborhood," said Johnson.

In the third step, Afghan government should spread strong messages about the issue as how have Taliban demolished Deobandi Islam in Afghanistan; "however, Afghan government is not doing so and, in my opinion, this is very much blowing," he added.

Mr. Johnson also emphasized that Afghan government should spread its messages through mosques or Friday [end]


Well this is obviously the only way to boost the followers, isn’t it? Most of the entities and companies are doing this by sponsoring their pages and accounts in exchange for money. When you pay money to the social media companies, they advertise your account every where and if they cannot boost followers, they will fake them for their users and satisfy the holders of sponsored accounts.
Also, it’s luckily the 21th century of advanced technology especially from information technology point of view. Any account can tracked and monitored by the host social media websites. Why isn’t Twitter tracking these accounts? And if they are fake, why don’t they deactivate the fake accounts? Well, it’s definitely a matter of business and money. Or, it’s a recommendation from the biggest boss to Twitter to allow this to happen.
Anyhow, who cares? It doesn’t matter if their followers are fake, or robots.



Well, listen. Today, the armed Taliban have begun a media war. Also, they have launched a wide range of propaganda on the social networks too, and with this they attract people to their ranks.

Taliban have made hundreds of pages on the social networks to change people's minds through this way because nowadays all the people even from the age of 13 use social media and this gives a good chance to the armed Taliban because this way they have access everywhere including village, mountain and city.

Nowadays, this is main topic for them. They broadcast on social media whatever the other media does not broadcast, and for this, they have hired thousands of people.

I myself am an expert worker of the social media because I have worked in it for the last 9 years. I have good experience in it. Through my page, I monitor the armed Taliban too and I see what names and ways they use on the social media even some of them make Facebook accounts in female names to attract more fans and then they change the accounts' names. They delete the old data and in the new information they begin supporting the Taliban.

Salaam times should also launch such a team to enlighten people's minds and to educate them this way because nowadays the social media has a big role and everyone has access to it. Thanks.