Taliban members and supporters purchase Twitter verification
AW found 13 Taliban-linked accounts with the blue tick, though several have since lost their mark of verification.
24 Jan 2023
On January 6, Afghan Witness detected that Hedayatullah Hedayat, the Taliban Head of Access to the Information Department, and 12 other Taliban-linked accounts, had signed up for the Twitter Blue service.
Twitter Blue allows users to pay and subscribe for a verified account, which is marked by a blue tick on their profiles. The blue tick was previously used to indicate "active, notable, and authentic accounts of public interest" verified by Twitter, and could not be purchased. The service came into effect when Elon Musk took over the company in October 2022.
Pro-Taliban accounts subscribing to Twitter Blue have seen an increase in followers, likely as the blue ticks aid legitimacy. Twitter itself has confirmed that “subscribers with the blue checkmark will get priority ranking in search, mentions, and replies to help lower the visibility of scams, spam and bots”.
The social media platform is currently charging the equivalent of 8 USD per month (around 6 GBP per month) for Android phones and 11 USD per month (around 8.90 GBP per month) for Apple devices locked to US-specific app stores. The average monthly income in Afghanistan is estimated to be around $30/month (around £24/month), indicating that a subscription to the Twitter Blue service is too costly for most Afghans.
On January 10, Mobeen Khan, a pro-Taliban social media activist and former spokesperson for the Kabul police, highlighted to his followers that Afghan phone numbers can now be used as a means of verification when creating a new Twitter account.
However, according to Twitter’s help centre, new subscriptions to the Twitter Blue service are currently only available in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the UK. While Afghan phone numbers can be used for security purposes when creating an account, it is likely that Afghanistan-based users of Twitter Blue have used a phone number registered in one of the six countries where the service is available.
Some Twitter users who subscribed to the service have since had their verified accounts removed. Hedayatullah Hedayat, one of the first subscribers of Twitter Blue in Afghanistan, has now lost his verification mark. This is likely due to the breach in terms as detailed above, though AW cannot verify why or when Hedayat lost the verified symbol from his profile, and AW was not able to confirm where the holders of the other Taliban-affiliated accounts are located.
There has been some criticism of those who have received verified status in Afghanistan, with one account criticising Mobeen Khan for chasing verification. The tweet states, “During the last 20 years, there were donkeys like you who danced and stomped with a little smile from the westerners. Now you are also dancing for a tick.”
On January 18, AW noticed that a cluster of pro-Taliban social media activists and influencers had their blue ticks removed, including prominent activist, Mobeen Khan, and pro-Taliban influencer Qari Omari Logari, though several others still have the blue tick of verification on their profiles.