Powered by Twitter? The Role of Social Media in the Taliban’s Takeover of Afghanistan | Laura Courchesne
William J. Perry Conference Room
About the Event: On August 15, 2021, a spokesperson of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Taliban’s self-proclaimed state, declared on Twitter: “With the help of God, and the support of the nation, we are now in control of all parts of the country. We would like to congratulate our nation on this big achievement.” Written in English, this tweet was the culmination of the Taliban’s two-decade long campaign - both online and on the battlefield - to win the hearts, minds, and territories of Afghanistan.
Employing a quantitative descriptive methods approach, this talk will offer the most comprehensive review of the Taliban’s use of social media to date, analyzing 112,354 tweets sourced from a network of key accounts linked to the Taliban’s leadership, over a period of five and half months, before, during, and after the takeover. It will provide a detailed analysis of the Taliban’s social media repertoire and tactics, preliminary documentation of the Taliban’s use of social media to complement on-the-ground military operations, and introduce a novel dataset. In this talk, Dr. Courchesne argues that during the summer takeover, the Taliban invested considerable time and organizational resources developing and amplifying a sophisticated online information campaign in real-time. She also argues that the Taliban made use Twitter’s platform features to amplify their messaging and engage in both domestic and international outreach, including developing specialized hashtags to push specific propaganda narratives and leveraging mentions to attempt to garner a response from humanitarian organizations, key political players, and journalists. This analysis contributes to ongoing discourse on the role of social media in conflict, provides additional insight on how non-state armed groups approach weaponizing social media to further political and military goals, and offers a greater understanding of how the Taliban used the online environment during the 2021 takeover.
About the Speaker: Dr. Laura Courchesne is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). Her work focuses on the role of the online environment in shaping and augmenting conflict dynamics. Her research spans topics including state-sponsored influence operations, non-state armed groups’ weaponization of social media, the economics of disinformation, and patterns of technology adoption by militaries. She is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Data, and Conflict.
Previously, Laura was a Research Fellow at the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project at Princeton University. Since 2020, she’s taught on armed group use of social media with the UN Systems Staff College. She was formerly a Strategic Advisor at Google’s Jigsaw, conducting fieldwork in the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2018. She completed her Ph.D. in International Relations at the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
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