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Since the Taliban took power, Afghan influencers have disappeared from social networks

Singer Aadiqa Madadgar was an Instagram and YouTube star. But the coming to power of the Taliban shattered his dreams, like those of many influencers, and caused a real earthquake on Afghan social networks. A former participant of the “Afghan Star” telecrochet show, Ms. Madadgar, 22, was famous for her incredible voice.

A practicing Muslim, her head still covered in a headscarf, she spent her days posting videos, with 21,200 subscribers on YouTube and 182,000 on Instagram. Recently, one of her videos showed her giggling while slicing up a watermelon. On another, she was singing a folk song in a cafe while a friend of hers played the guitar.

“People like me will no longer be safe”

While visiting the city of Kandahar, birthplace of the Taliban, she filmed herself eating pizza with friends. On August 14, her tone had dramatically changed when, for the first time, she expressed her political opinion on Instagram. “I don’t like to share my pain online, but I’m sick of it all,” she wrote. “My heart is broken when I see that my land, my homeland is slowly being destroyed.” The next day, Taliban militants seized Kabul, and since then she has not posted anything.

Millions of young Afghans, especially women and religious minorities, fear that all of their old publications will put them at risk. They remember how the Taliban imposed an ultra-rigorous version of Islamic law between 1996 and 2001. Women were prohibited from going out without a male chaperone and from working, girls from going to school. Women accused of crimes such as adultery were whipped and stoned to death.

Ayeda Shadab was a fashion icon for many young Afghan women with 290,000 followers on Instagram and 400,000 on TikTok. Every day, she paraded in the latest outfits from her posh boutique in Kabul. In one of her most recent videos, she posed in an asymmetrical and transparent ball gown, with Dua Lipa’s hit in the background, Levitating. But she had no illusions about the consequences of the Taliban coming to power for women who, like them, work in the fashion industry.

“If the Taliban take Kabul, people like me will no longer be safe,” she told German broadcaster ZDF in a recent interview. “Women who, like me, do not wear the veil, work, they cannot accept them”. Terrified of the Taliban’s return to power, she made up her mind to flee and recently announced that she was in Turkey. Other prominent celebrities and influencers have tried to do the same. Aryana Sayeed, one of Afghanistan’s most famous singers, posted a selfie on Wednesday as she boarded a U.S. military plane bound for Doha.

Authors of publications “may be the target of reprisals”

“I’m fine and I’m alive after a few nights that I can never forget,” she wrote. “My heart, my prayers and my thoughts will always be with you”. Others were less fortunate. Zaki Anwari, a youngster who played in the national youth football team, often posted selfies. He fell to his death after trying to grab hold of an American plane taking off from Kabul.

Following recommendations from activists, journalists and associations, Facebook announced new features that allow Afghan users to quickly lock their accounts. Owner of WhatsApp, the giant said to consider the Taliban as a “terrorist organization” for years and therefore block Taliban accounts on its platform as well as on Instagram. The US advocacy group Human Rights First has published advice in Dari and Pashtu on how Afghans can erase their history.

For Raman Chima, head of Asia in the Internet advocacy group Access Now, social networks should focus on evaluating messages from the Taliban that incite violence rather than relying on government designations. He explained that the authors of the publications “can be the target of reprisals, be accused of being infidels or non-Islamic in the eyes of not only the Taliban but also other religious extremist groups in the country”.


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