The app, which allowed users to access the group’s Pashto website, is part of a growing digital campaign by the Taliban to grow its audience. Taking cues from the recruitment efforts of IS, the Taliban’s website is now updated in five languages, including English and Arabic, while it also maintains a constant presence on Twitter and Facebook, despite attempts by the social networks to take down the accounts when these are discovered.
The fact that the app was even on the Play Store in the first place could prove problematic for Google. In the past, the company has kept its app store relatively open, only intervening to remove apps once they have been highlighted as dangerous or insecure. But last month, Google confirmed that it had started to pre-moderate apps, to “catch policy offenders earlier in the process”. It remains unclear how the Taliban’s app made it through that safety net.
The content delivered through the app, which was branded as “Pashto Afghan News – alemarah”, included official statements and videos from the group. Experts positioned the app as part of the Taliban’s rivalry with the Islamic State, which is known for using digital platforms such as social media effectively. Recently, fighters loyal to the latter group have become active in pockets of eastern Afghanistan, even going so far as launching a radio station.
“That the app was launched in Pashto indicates that the local Pashtun population is the main audience and it could thus be perceived as an attempt to bolster its support in eastern Afghanistan where IS – especially in Nangarhar and Paktika – is pushing for control,” Tore Hamming, a militant Islamism researcher at the European University Institute, told the Guardian on Sunday.
Google told the Guardian: “While we don’t comment on specific apps, we can confirm that we remove apps from Google Play that violate our policies.”
“Our policies are designed to provide a great experience for users and developers. That’s why we remove apps from Google Play that violate those policies.”
This article was written by Alex Hern, for theguardian.com on Monday 4th April 2016 14.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010