Parody accounts target Afghanistan International and others
In recent months, Afghan Witness has identified multiple Twitter accounts imitating the branding of several big outlets.
Afghan Witness (AW) has identified several Twitter accounts seemingly set up to mimic and parody the news channel Afghanistan International, among other well-known outlets such as Hasht e Subh and Aamaj News.
There appears to be a concerted effort to undermine Afghanistan International in particular, with several Twitter accounts imitating the outlet and posting content that mocks the National Resistance Front (NRF) and other high profile anti-Taliban groups and actors.
There are at least six accounts that appear to be copying the outlet’s brand:
Afghanistan International, known for its strong anti-Taliban line, is a UK-based media platform that emerged from the parent company of Iran International when the Taliban took control. Concerns have been raised regarding Iran International and its alleged ties to the Saudi state, though Iran International and its operator DMA Media Limited dispute these.
The accounts set up to mimic Afghanistan International appear to share common content between them, and occasionally link to one another, suggesting they are run or coordinated by the same group of people.
The accounts first appeared in February, followed by a cluster in March and another in May.
The most successful appears to be the first, an open parody of Afghanistan International called Kolab International, which was created in February 2022 but was recently suspended by Twitter. The account often posted derogatory descriptions of people who live in northern Afghanistan and who participate in opposition activity. The account tweets in both English and Pashto and had posted 80 times until its recent takedown.
As well as mocking anti-Taliban groups, several of the accounts appear to target France as a presumed supporter of opposition groups. As well as the explicitly named France International News – which uses Afghanistan International branding – ‘Kolab International’ provides a contact email address of ‘KolabNews@france.com’.
The effort does not appear limited to Afghanistan International. Accounts mimicking Hasht e Subh - also known as 8am.af (@hashtesubh) - and Aamaj News (@AamajN) have also been established using the respective platforms’ branding, as well as handles which could easily be confused with their real accounts. They both have over 1000 followers and feature the same style of content, mocking the NRF and their supporters.
As with the Afghanistan International mimics, the Aamaj account also appears to target France. Its pinned tweet from May 7 is a quote tweet of French public intellectual Bernard Henri Levy, pictured with the NRF’s Ahmad Massoud with the text “After Massoud Saeb, his son Ahmad Massoud renewed his friendship with Bernard the Jew who showed his support for the Resistance Front. Bernard the Jew is well known for inciting discord among the Muslim population.”
It is also notable that the false Aamaj account links to content from ‘Kolab International’, again suggesting they are working in tandem and that the accounts are most likely run by the same network of people.
It should be stressed that the accounts appear to have had relatively limited impact – most have under 1000 followers while the most popular and longest standing – Kolab International – has been suspended, indicating a complaint was lodged against it.
They appear to be focused on mocking Afghanistan International and other critical media and opposition groups rather than truly mimicking the platforms to confuse audiences, which would pose a greater risk of disinformation. Nevertheless, it shows pro-Taliban actors are actively targeting critical media platforms and looking to undermine their reputation.
25 May 2022