Reason Roundup

Facebook's Taliban Policy Could Delete a Lot More Than Just Pro-Taliban Content

Plus: Biden won't budge on Afghanistan, the link between cruise ship vaccine passports and free speech, and more...


Here's a look at some of the latest developments related to Afghanistan.

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube take different approaches to Taliban content. Facebook considers the Taliban a terrorist group and will continue to ban pro-Taliban content from Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, the company confirmed. Content moderators will continue to block not only content from Taliban-associated accounts but all pro-Taliban content, regardless of who is sharing it.

"The Taliban is sanctioned as a terrorist organization under U.S. law and we have banned them from our services under our Dangerous Organization policies," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "This means we remove accounts maintained by or on behalf of the Taliban and prohibit praise, support, and representation of them."

As tends to be the case, Facebook is taking a more extreme approach than some of its competitors. Both YouTube and Twitter indicated that they would block Taliban content if it violates other platform policies (such as prohibitions on certain sorts of violent content) but will not unilaterally ban pro-Taliban content.

This seems to be the right approach, from both a first-principles free speech standpoint and a desire not to inadvertently block content that could be educational, newsworthy, or shared by ordinary Afghan users trying to get the word out about what's happening in their country.

A Twitter spokesperson told CNBC "the situation in Afghanistan is rapidly evolving. We're also witnessing people in the country using Twitter to seek help and assistance. Twitter's top priority is keeping people safe, and we remain vigilant." And Alphabet, which owns YouTube, "said it allows content that provides sufficient educational, documentary, scientific and artistic context," CNBC notes.

Rasmus Nielsen of the University of Oxford further outlined the danger of unintended consequences from policies like Facebook's, telling CNBC that "every time someone is banned there is a risk they were only using the platform for legitimate purposes. Given the disagreement over terms like 'terrorism' and who gets to designate individuals and groups as such, civil society groups and activists will want clarity about the nature and extent of collaboration with governments in making these decisions. And many users will seek reassurances that any technologies used for enforcement preserves their privacy."

Who's Arming the Taliban? Us. American investment in the Afghan military has ultimately benefited the Taliban. "A U.S. defense official on Monday confirmed the Taliban's sudden accumulation of U.S.-supplied Afghan equipment is enormous," reports the Associated Press. Their new cache includes guns, ammunition, and combat aircraft.

"The reversal is an embarrassing consequence of misjudging the viability of Afghan government forces — by the U.S. military as well as intelligence agencies — which in some cases chose to surrender their vehicles and weapons rather than fight," the A.P. says.

This is an all too common story—and one that suggests the futility of the U.S. trying to intervene in conflict-torn countries by supplying our preferred side with weapons and equipment.

For instance, military weapons purchased by the U.S. in 2015 made it to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria fighters within two months, Conflict Armament Research (CAR) revealed in 2017. "CAR used serial numbers or key markings on the weapons to trace them back to their origin and try to piece together how they were obtained by the militants," NBC News reported at the time. "CAR found that one anti-tank missile sold to the U.S. Army made its way to ISIS in just 59 days." At least some of these weapons were initially given by American authorities to fighters in Syria that the U.S. government hoped would defeat Bashar Assad's regime and then the Islamic State. Others came from the U.S.—and other countries—during earlier conflicts.

Biden won't repeat Afghanistan mistake "of staying and fighting indefinitely." In a speech yesterday, President Joe Biden reiterated his commitment to continue evacuating U.S. troops, staff, and allies from Afghanistan, despite criticism from myriad angles.

"If anything, the developments of the past week reinforce that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision," Biden said. "I will not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past. The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national security interest of the United States."

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Cruise ships, vaccines, and free speech. The fight over whether cruise ships out of Florida can require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from customers implicates the intersection of economic regulations and free speech, explains the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

On Aug. 8, a federal judge agreed to halt enforcement of a Florida law that prohibits businesses from requiring "patrons or customers to provide any documentation certifying COVID-19 vaccination or post-infection recovery to gain access to, entry upon, or services from the business operations in this state." The company that owns Norwegian Cruise Line brought the claim, arguing, among other things, that the law violates the First Amendment.

While the case may seem attenuated from both media law and technology, it actually grapples with an emerging issue we've been covering — the extent to which nominally "economic" regulations that unduly burden protected speech are constitutional. That question was front-and-center in the Trump administration's efforts to use emergency economic powers to shutter the communications platforms TikTok and WeChat by effectively prohibiting other businesses from providing them certain services.

The cruise line decision, by Judge Kathleen M. Williams of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, is a pretty by-the-book application of First Amendment doctrine. She first determines that the law is "content-based" because businesses are free to require COVID-19 test results and other non-COVID vaccination information, among other things. "

More here.


Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister talks creativity, cancel culture, and self-censorship. "As an artist, your job is to be open, creative, and a free thinker. You're supposed to let it flow and let pencil pushers worry about if you can legally get away with it," Snyder said in a recent interview with Metal Wani (transcribed here). "And I was very angry at myself that I was actually questioning something that I was writing because it might, in this current environment, offend people, because I used that word, so it sucks that we're still dealing with that, but I think it's going to be an ongoing battle for eternity." Snyder also discusses the shift from censors from the right in the 1980s to today's censorship from the left.


• A Tennessee vaccination official who claimed she was sent a muzzle actually sent it to herself, an investigation found.

• Texas "Gov. Greg Abbott's position on private vaccination requirements is confused and confusing," writes Reason's Jacob Sullum.

• California police officers and prison guards have lower vaccination rates than the general population.

• The controversial campus speech app Yik Yak is back.

• A new lawsuit argues that California's recall vote is unconstitutional.

• "U.S. experts are expected to recommend COVID-19 vaccine boosters for all Americans, regardless of age, eight months after they received their second dose of the shot, to ensure lasting protection against the coronavirus as the delta variant spreads across the country," reports the A.P.