Facebook and Afghanistan

Social Media and Nation States

As Kabul collapsed and the Taliban took over, Facebook decided to try and remove any Taliban-related content. Good or Bad?

By Keith Teare • Issue #270 • View online



The reaction in social media to the failed “nation building” exercise in Afghanistan has focused on the details of the departure of the US and UK presence and the speed of the Taliban advance. It has largely sought to blame President Biden for poor tactics whilst embracing his larger point that the entire US episode was a mistake from day one and was always unwinnable.

To a large degree, there is nothing to learn from that reaction or the various efforts to discredit Biden. But that does not mean there is nothing of interest in the events. Aside from the many human stories the reaction of Facebook to the events gives us much to consider.

Facebook is clearly not a US-centric platform. Its users span the globe and at over 2.85 billion active users they represent all points of view across the spectrum of human thought.

The Taliban (the word means “students” in Pashtun) is a political movement that has the goal of establishing a state based on Sharia law. According to the BBC:

The Taliban, or “students” in the Pashto language, emerged in the early 1990s in northern Pakistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. It is believed that the predominantly Pashtun movement first appeared in religious seminaries — mostly paid for by money from Saudi Arabia — which preached a hardline form of Sunni Islam.

The promise made by the Taliban — in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan — was to restore peace and security and enforce their own austere version of Sharia, or Islamic law, once in power.

With the decision of the Trump administration to agree on a peace deal with them, it was always inevitable that on the departure of the US troops the Taliban would likely come back to prominence. Afghanistan has no alternative mass popular movement to form another narrative for its future. And the belief that religion should form the basis of law, whilst clearly a throwback to the earliest evolution of human society, is not uncommon in the world, including here in the USA (“God Bless the USA”) and in the UK (“God Save the Queen”).

So, when Facebook took the decision to attempt to remove any Taliban content from its service it did two things. Firstly it decided that the point of view represented by the Taliban should not be seen or heard. Secondly, it seemed to be carrying out US foreign policy. This is from a CNN opinion piece by Jillian C. York — the author of Silicon Values: The Future of Free Speech Under Surveillance Capitalism.

Facebook confirmed this week that, despite taking control of Afghanistan, it would continue to ban the Taliban from using its platform, citing the United States’ inclusion of the group on its Specially Designated Global Terrorists list, as well as the company’s own policy against “dangerous organizations.”

As a large global platform that claims not to be a publisher, but a canvas on which others can publish, it appears odd that the Taliban’s views are considered off-limits or outside the scope of what others should be able to see. To say this is not to support those views but to give us access to them so that we can assess them ourselves.

Paradoxically, in the same week, Facebook announced that full end-to-end encryption is now implemented in Facebook Messenger. This from TechCrunch:

End-to-end encryption (E2EE) — a security feature that prevents third-parties from eavesdropping on calls and chats — has been available for text conversations on Facebook’s flagship messaging service since 2016. Although the company has faced pressure from governments to roll back its end-to-end encryption plans, Facebook is now extending this protection to both voice and video calls on Messenger, which means that “nobody else, including Facebook, can see or listen to what’s sent or said.”

“End-to-end encryption is already widely used by apps like WhatsApp to keep personal conversations safe from hackers and criminals,” Ruth Kricheli, director of product management for Messenger, said in a blog post on Friday. “It’s becoming the industry standard and works like a lock and key, where just you and the people in the chat or call have access to the conversation.”

Facebook also demonstrated its “multiverse” version of online meetings this week. In all of this it is clear that global communications are going to be private and encrypted, outside of the ability of governments, or platforms, to “see” what is being said. Surveillance Capitalism is not a possibility in this world. And as audiences supported by these tools grow to millions of viewers it is clear that all points of view will be able to organize and gather an audience free of interference.

The good news is that this will prevent “banning” from being an effective tool against ideas. It will force us all to acknowledge that the only real way to combat a repressive, backward-looking ideology is with open debate and a more convincing free and open future proof alternative. Clearly, that is what Afghans need. Better ideas, and leadership of those ideas. Without that the only organized idea will inevitably win. A decades-long US military presence was never going to produce that. Only real people with a real stake in the future can do so.

This week’s newsletter has two sections that are peripherally related to the discussion of the future. The first — Capitalism, Communism, and Freedom — has articles covering attempts by economic and political forces to shape the future. Some in China (the attack on “billionaires” by the CCP), some in South Africa (the attempt to introduce a form of Universal Basic Income), some here in the US (Apple’s surveillance plans and the EFF’s opposition), and some global (the flood of private equity cash into private companies). Any idea that we could simply say that capitalism is good and communism is bad is very challenged by these stories. They force us into the details of what kind of world we want. In my opinion, that question is always front and center and defies simple answers. But for me, it has to include an open debate between competing views. More in this week’s video.


Big Tech and Foreign Policy

Platforms struggle with Taliban policy amid chaotic US withdrawal

Social platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are coming under new scrutiny for the way they treat Taliban accounts, as the militant Islamist group emerges as the dominant power in Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal. While none of the platforms have publicly changed their policies on the group, moderation practices have come under close scrutiny, and many are shifting resources to ensure the policies are appropriately enforced.

Update August 17th 1:10PM ET: Added statement from YouTube spokesperson.

Update August 17th 3:43PM ET: Changed to reflect the fact that WhatsApp has discontinued several Taliban-operated helplines.

www.theverge.com • Share

Facebook Messenger rolls out end-to-end encrypted voice and video calls

Facebook is rolling out a host of features for Messenger users who switch on end-to-end encryption (E2EE). You can now call Messenger contacts using voice or video with E2EE enabled, just like in WhatsApp.

No one other than the person you’re speaking with can see or listen to your E2EE chats or calls, so you can add an extra layer of protection to your voice and video conversations on Messenger. However, Facebook says you can still report messages if needed.

There are updates for disappearing messages as well.

www.engadget.com • Share

Facebook is bringing end-to-end encryption to Messenger calls and Instagram DMs — TechCrunch

Facebook has extended the option of using end-to-end encryption for Messenger voice calls and video calls. End-to-end encryption (E2EE) — a security feature that prevents third-parties from eavesdropping on calls and chats — has been available for text conversations on Facebook’s flagship messaging service since 2016. Although the company has faced pressure from governments to […]

techcrunch.com • Share

Capitalism, Communism, and Freedom

Speak Out Against Apple’s Mass Surveillance Plans

Mass surveillance is not an acceptable crime-fighting strategy, no matter how well-intentioned the spying. If you’re upset about Apple’s recent announcement that the next version of iOS will install surveillance software in every iPhone, we need you to speak out about it.


Tell Apple: Don’t Scan Our Phones

Last year, EFF supporters spoke out and stopped the EARN IT bill, a government scheme that could have enabled the scanning of every message online. We need to harness that same energy to let Apple know that its plan to enable the scanning of photos on every iPhone is unacceptable.

www.eff.org • Share

Private capital groups soar on boom in unlisted assets | Financial Times

Market value of five listed US alternative investment companies triples to $250bn

The biggest listed US private capital companies have more than tripled in value since the depths of last year’s market sell-off, as investors seek to benefit from the hefty fees they rake in from the boom in unlisted assets. The combined market value of Blackstone, KKR, Carlyle, Apollo and Ares has ballooned from a March 2020 low of $80bn to about $252bn this year, and private equity chiefs sounded an ebullient tone on earnings calls with analysts this summer. “We are fortunate to be in a growth business,” said Marc Rowan, chief executive of Apollo Global Management. “Almost every day, the business gets better. The trends in the business are overwhelmingly favourable.”

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The U.S. States with the Top Tech Salaries in 2021

In 2020, despite the economic turmoil caused by the global pandemic, America’s tech sector experienced rapid growth. Last year, the total number of U.S. tech jobs grew by 60,000.

Because of this demand, U.S. employers are willing to pay for the right talent — on average, tech workers in the U.S. earn about 61% more than the average salary. But some tech workers make more than others, depending on where they live.

This graphic by business.org uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to highlight the average annual tech salaries in each state, compared to the average salary of other occupations. We’ll also touch on the top-paying metro areas, and what type of tech jobs offer the highest compensation across the country..

www.visualcapitalist.com • Share

Government’s plan to give basic income to everyone in South Africa — and it wants tax hikes to fund it

The Department of Social Development has published a green paper on proposed social security and retirement reforms for public comment.

One of the key proposals of the paper is the introduction of a Basic Income Grant (BIG), first mooted in 2002 as part of the Taylor Report.

At the time of the Taylor Report, the BIG was calculated on a per-person basis of R100 per month. A household with six people — the average for the South African population at the time — would have received R600 a month, which the government would pay to the person primarily responsible for childcare.

However, the green paper envisions the BIG working differently — implemented for working-age South Africans only, while maintaining the existing social grants for children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

businesstech.co.za • Share

Xi Jinping’s assault on tech will change China’s trajectory | The Economist

It is likely to prove self-defeating | Leaders

Of all china’s achievements in the past two decades, one of the most impressive is the rise of its technology industry. Alibaba hosts twice as much e-commerce activity as Amazon does. Tencent runs the world’s most popular super-app, with 1.2bn users. China’s tech revolution has also helped transform its long-run economic prospects at home, by allowing it to leap beyond manufacturing into new fields such as digital health care and artificial intelligence (ai). As well as propelling China’s prosperity, a dazzling tech industry could also be the foundation for a challenge to American supremacy.

www.economist.com • Share

The End of the Workplace?

The future of work according to Envoy’s CEO

Why the future of work is a lot like middle school.

A remote, digital-first future of work would appear to be extremely bad news for a company like Envoy. CEO Larry Gadea and his team have spent a number of years building tools for physical offices, after all, including the visitor-check-in system it’s best known for. (If you’ve ever been in a startup office, you know the one: It’s the iPad in the lobby that makes you sign an NDA and then take a picture at that horrible under-chin angle.)

But Gadea said that while the pandemic created some tough times for Envoy — including forcing Gadea to lay off a big chunk of his employees — it has also helped accelerate the company toward some of its bigger, more ambitious plans. Gadea thinks the industry is headed for a rethinking of what an “office” actually does, with more intelligent tools to make sure every employee has the experience they need when they come in. And in a world where five days a week, 9–5 is no longer the normal setup, those tools seem to Gadea to matter more than ever.

www.protocol.com • Share

Data and the Enterprise Stack

Preset Cloud — The Visualization Layer for the Modern Data Stack by @ttunguz

At Redpoint, we believe the 2020s will be the decade of data. Today, we’re announcing our partnership with Preset.io, a company providing the visualization layer for the modern data stack. In addition, Preset.io announces Preset Cloud, a fully hosted cloud service for Apache Superset, is generally available. Preset provides a managed service of Apache Superset, an open source business intelligence software which Maxime Beauchemin started in at Airbnb. In a few short, Apache Superset has become the leading open source business intelligence layer.

tomtunguz.com • Share

Innovation and Delusion

Twitter adds support for Twitter Spaces to its rebuilt API — TechCrunch

Twitter is rolling out changes to its newly rebuilt API that will allow third-party developers to build tools and other solutions specifically for its audio chatroom product, Twitter Spaces. The company today announced it’s shipping new endpoints to support Spaces on the Twitter API v2, with the initial focus on enabling discovery of live or […]

techcrunch.com • Share

Hands-on with Facebook’s new VR for work app Horizon Workrooms — The Verge

We spent time with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in Horizon Workrooms, the company’s new attempt to build a metaverse for work collaboration in Oculus VR.

It wasn’t long into a recent press briefing I attended in virtual reality when Mark Zuckerberg showed up to talk about the metaverse.

I was sitting at a long, U-shaped conference table with a handful of other reporters, our floating torsos bobbing over our chairs, as the Facebook CEO beamed in. A giant, floating display nearby showed other Facebook employees dialed in from the non-VR world to watch us through their computer screens. It was there that Zuckerberg first appeared through his webcam before donning a headset and teleporting into a chair at the table as his own legless avatar.

We were there to preview a new app, which Facebook is describing as an “open beta,” for the Oculus Quest called Horizon Workrooms. It’s the social network’s first stab at creating a VR experience specifically for people to work together in. After spending over an hour in Workrooms, I can see its potential as a more immersive way to communicate with people who are physically apart, but I don’t see it catching on beyond the most diehard VR enthusiasts anytime soon. That said, I can see this experience become compelling for more casual users, and potentially those who are totally new to VR, in the years ahead.

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Crypto is the New Normal

Walmart Is Hiring A “Digital Currency And Cryptocurrency Product Lead”

Walmart has begun its search to hire a “Digital Currency And Cryptocurrency Product Lead” to “own and drive the Digital Currency strategy”. As one of the world’s biggest retailers, Walmart’s new position could be a promising development for the Bitcoin community.

The new role is for a senior director to be based in the Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. The role, as described on LinkedIn, is to identify cryptocurrency partnerships and investments, and also to “identify customer needs and translate them into product requirements.”

bitcoinmagazine.com • Share

Second largest US mortgage lender will accept crypto payments this year

United Wholesale Mortgage (UWM), the second-largest United States-based mortgage lender, is planning to accept cryptocurrency payments this year starting with Bitcoin (BTC).

UWM CEO Mat Ishbia revealed the crypto plans on Monday in a conference call regarding the firm’s Q2 results — with the firm posting $138.7 million in net profits for the quarter.

“We’re excited that hopefully (this year) we can actually execute on that before anyone in the country,” Ishbia said.

cointelegraph.com • Share

Wells Fargo And JPMorgan Both File For Passive Bitcoin Funds — Bitcoin Magazine: Bitcoin News, Articles, Charts, and Guides

Today, banking giants Wells Fargo and JPMorgan both filed for passive Bitcoin funds for their wealthy clients, Coindeskreported.

Though initially anticipated to be actively managed, both funds were registered as passive. Notably, both banks are partnering with NYDIG on the offerings. The new funds had no sales as of today.

The news comes after earlier this month, when it was reported that high-net-worth clients of Wells Fargo were granted Bitcoin exposure.

While in July, JPMorgan Asset & Wealth Management CEO Mary Callahan Erdoes saidthe banking giant’s wealthy clients see Bitcoin as an asset class and “want to invest.”

Wells Fargo and JPMorgan are just the latest mega-banks in a line of traditionally conservative institutions to offer indirect Bitcoin investment vehicles.

Just today, Coinbase announced a partnership with one of the largest traditional banks in Japan, Mitsubishi UFJ (MUFG) Financial Group, which will offer its account holders exclusive onboarding to the exchange platform.

bitcoinmagazine.com • Share

Lionel Messi’s Paris Saint-Germain deal includes cryptocurrency payment

Lionel Messi‘s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain included a payment in cryptocurrency fan tokens, the club confirmed on Thursday, providing another big-name endorsement for new digital assets.

Messi, 34, left Spanish side Barcelona and signed a two-year contract with PSG, with an option for a third year, on Tuesday.

PSG said in a statement the tokens included in his “welcome package,” or signing-on fee, had been provided by Socios.com, who are the club’s fan token provider.

The club did not state what percentage of the deal comprised the tokens but said he had received a “large number.” It also has not disclosed the overall financial package.

www.espn.com • Share

Robinhood says dogecoin accounted for 62% of crypto revenue in Q2

Robinhood, which derives significant revenue from crypto trading, announced earnings on Wednesday for the first time since its IPO last month.


  • Robinhood reported quarterly results on Wednesday for the first time as a public company.
  • Crypto made up over 50% of transaction-based revenue in the second quarter, up from 17% in the first quarter.
  • More than 60% of its funded accounts traded crypto in the quarter.

www.cnbc.com • Share

Nigeria to consider upcoming CBDC as ‘critical national infrastructure’

Nigeria will classify its upcoming central bank digital currency as “critical national infrastructure,” a new report has revealed. This, the country’s central bank believes, will allow for better protection from operational and cybersecurity risks.

Nigeria began exploring and researching the CBDC, which it has dubbed the e-Naira, five years ago under Project GIANT. As CoinGeek reported, the Central Bank of Nigeria is eyeing an October launch for the Hyperledger Fabric-based digital currency.

Now, a report by a local newspaper has revealed more details about the closely guarded project. THISDAY claimed to have obtained confidential documents on the CBDC which reveal, among other things, that the central bank intends for the CBDC to coexist alongside the traditional payment systems. The central bank has reportedly been working “to address interoperability risks that might be associated with the implementation.”

Nigeria’s central bank understands the risks of disruption that a CBDC poses, especially to digital payments systems. To address this, the bank will apply a suitable regulatory framework and other compliance mechanisms, the documents reportedly stated. Additionally, the bank believes that the long-term benefits to the financial system would offset the initial risks and costs.

coingeek.com • Share

Stablecoins find a use case in Africa’s most volatile markets

Pegged to the dollar, these cryptocurrencies can offer respite from inflation — but come at a risk.

Samuel, a 26-year-old working in the marketing department of a Nigerian manufacturing company, has been thinking about migrating to Canada for the last few years. He is one of the thousands of Nigerians who have spent the past 12 months preparing their documents in the hopes of a positive response to their applications for permanent residence.

But Samuel — who asked to be identified by his first name only to keep his relocation plans private — noticed the same problem kept cropping up in the dozens of Telegram and WhatsApp groups that share information about the immigration process. Many of the would-be migrants struggled to access U.S. dollars to pay for their immigration documents.

“The number one challenge, every single day,” he said, is that they are unable to pay for the mandatory academic credential assessment for relocation to Canada. It costs around $170.

“It’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things,” Samuel told Rest of World. But he worried that a series of forex restrictions imposed by the Central Bank of Nigeria in recent years restrict ordinary Nigerians like himself to spending limited amount of US dollars via their debit cards each month.

restofworld.org • Share

Startup of the Week

World’s Youngest Billionaires: How Johnny Boufarhat Built a $3 Billion Fortune — Bloomberg

Johnny Boufarhat was fed up. A rare allergic reaction in 2015 left him with a misfiring immune system, making him crave in-person contact as he stayed inside to avoid further health flare-ups.

“It was so bad that for years, I could barely go outside,” Boufarhat, 27, said in a June 2020 blog post. “I wanted to go to events. I wanted to meet people.”

That frustration led him in early 2019 to start writing code in his London apartment’s kitchen for an online events platform that became Hopin Ltd.This month, the startup raised $450 million from investors including Brad Gerstner’s Altimeter Capital Management at a $7.8 billion valuation. At that level, Boufarhat’s stake is now worth about $3.2 billion, making him one of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

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Tweet of the Week

Lenders offer cheap deals to Silicon Valley to compete with flood of venture capital | Financial Times

Venture debt providers struggle to strike deals in bumper year for selling equity

Banks and other lenders have cut prices and loosened their terms to make debt more attractive to Silicon Valley start-ups, as they try to compete with flush venture capitalists. “We’re all looking for the loan demand that’s left, so to speak,” said Marc Cadieux, chief credit officer at Silicon Valley Bank, the largest lender to tech start-ups. The lesser-known cousins of venture capital firms, venture debt providers typically offer loans to cash burning start-ups while purchasing warrants that can convert into lucrative shares years into the future. Venture debt providers lend about $10bn per year, according to a 2019 survey of the industry — a small but ubiquitous slice of the broader market for private tech financing. Start-ups typically seek out the loans after their first or second big rounds of venture funding, allowing them to raise capital without reducing the stakes of founders and employees. For banks, such as Silicon Valley Bank, the loans also create inroads to potentially lucrative clients.

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