When the Taliban swept into power on August 15, social media users in Afghanistan have been deleting their online profile for fear of being targeted by the hardline Islamic group.
Afghan social media influencers, who previously were strong opponents of the group’s policies have been deleting photos and tweets from their past and many have turned away from social media altogether.
Although the Taliban announced a general amnesty for all Afghans who had previously fought against them or were part of the previous government, some of those fleeing the country told the BBC they did not trust the militant Islamist group.
There have been reports from different parts of the country that Taliban fighters have killed civilians after the fall of the capital Kabul, despite the earlier promise of their leaders.
Last week, Taliban Defence Minister Mohammad Yaqoob issued an audio message acknowledging that there had been some reports of “revenge killings” of civilians by the group’s fighters. He did not provide further details or mention specific incidents.
The news sparked fears of possible repercussions from social media posts, and Facebook introduced additional features for users in Afghanistan – including allowing them to lock their profiles and deny access to content.
The BBC spoke to two people, one in Kabul and one in another major Afghan city, who had millions of followers on social media and who were considered influential before the Taliban came to power.
Both have since deleted their accounts for fear of being targeted. Given the situation in Afghanistan, the names of the users interviewed have been changed in our report.
Fida, an Afghan man based in Kabul, was a prolific social media user and staunch opponent of the Taliban, frequently criticising their policies and behaviour.
But Fida has now deleted his Facebook account and is on a list of people who will be granted asylum abroad by Western countries.
Speaking to the BBC, he claimed that after the Taliban gained control of Kabul, he was told by relatives that he was in danger for playing a detrimental role in the Taliban’s war against “occupiers”.
“They told my relatives that people will not forgive, despite the general amnesty,” he said, adding that his name appeared on a list describing people being “shot in the head wherever they are found”.
According to Fida, the day after the Taliban’s takeover of the capital, on August 16, he deleted all of his social media accounts. He said his last Facebook post was anti-Taliban and that he no longer wanted to live in Afghanistan.
“I would rather die than live here now,” he said.
‘It’s the beginning, just wait’
Haris, who now lives under Taliban rule in another city, told the BBC he deleted his social media accounts two days before the fall of Kabul because, he said, “the Taliban regime is coming and democracy is gone”.
For many years prior to the Taliban’s takeover last month, the Afghan government had been accused of sponsoring social media accounts – allegedly providing salaries from the presidential palace in exchange for posts supporting the government and criticising the Taliban. (Source: BBC)