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Facebook unveils tools to help Afghan people fearful of Taliban violence

New security features are meant to help Afghans quickly lock accounts and minimize their social media footprints.
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Facebook Inc. headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on April 21.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Facebook said Thursday it is rolling out new user controls for people in Afghanistan who are rushing to delete their digital footprints for fears that their phones or computers may be seized by the Taliban and reveal links to people from Western nations, international civil society groups, the Afghan military or the recently collapsed Afghan government. 

WhatsApp, a popular messaging app in Afghanistan that the Taliban have used in recent days to spread the word of their siege of Kabul on Sunday, is also owned by Facebook.

Among the new security features Facebook has released for Afghan users is a one-click tool that allows people to quickly lock their accounts, which prevents people who aren’t already friends with the users from downloading their profile picture or seeing their posts, according to several posts on Twitter by Nathaniel Gleicher, the head of security at Facebook. On Instagram, which Facebook also owns, ​​the company is offering new popup messages to alert users of ways to secure their accounts.

“Over the past week, our teams have been working around the clock to do everything we can to help keep people safe,” Gleicher said on Twitter. “While we have to be careful to avoid tipping off bad actors, here are a few security measures we’ve rolled out for people in country to protect their accounts.”

Gleicher added that Facebook has created “a special operations center” to help respond to the fast-moving crisis in the country and urged people to consult a suite of digital security tools created by human rights organizations to better secure their digital lives.

Facebook’s new security features follow what human rights workers have described as a dire need to protect people in Afghanistan who fear traces of their online lives could be used as an excuse to enact violence against them and their families. The company did not clarify if it has translated its new resources and help pages into Pashto and Dari, the two primary languages in Afghanistan. 

“People in Afghanistan want to scrub their digital footprint now because they don’t want to risk their lives or physical security in any way, even if it’s just identifying them and asking them questions,” said Nighat Dad, a lawyer and internet rights activist who is the executive director of the Digital Rights Foundation based in Pakistan and serves on Facebook’s Oversight Board.