LONDON: Twitter accounts of prominent Taliban members were reported displaying blue ticks, the platform’s paid-for verification feature, a BBC investigation revealed.
According to the report, two top officials and four supporters purchased the blue tick subscription to have their profiles verified.
This includes Hedayatullah Hedayat, the head of the Taliban department for access to information, who has around 187,000 followers, and Abdul Haq Hammad, the head of the media watchdog in the Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture, who has almost 170,000 followers.
When it was first introduced to Twitter in 2009, the blue tick feature was assigned to distinguish genuine notable account holders, such as celebrities and organizations, from impostors or parodies and could not be purchased.
However, since Elon Musk’s takeover of the app last October, the platform announced its paid verification tick would be made available at the price of $8 for android users and $11 for people using the app on Apple devices.
Following the announcement, several blue tick users flocked to the platform to impersonate other accounts, including Musk himself, prompting the company to rethink the feature and impose a ban on impersonators.
The news sparked immediate outrage among users who raised their concerns on the platform.
Since the publication of the news, Twitter has removed the paid-for verification feature for Hedayat and Hammad.
Editor Max Goldbart signaled that the incident “may be demonstrative of a flood of newly verified Twitter users who are using the platform to espouse harmful ideologies.”
On Monday, former Taliban official Mohammed Jalal applauded Elon Musk’s management of the platform, saying the billionaire was “making Twitter great again.”
The presence of hardline Islamists on Twitter has been a topic of controversy for some time.
In October 2021, former US President Donald Trump, who was suspended from Twitter in early 2021 but reinstated by Musk late last year, said: “We live in a world where the Taliban has a huge presence on Twitter, yet your favorite American President has been silenced.
“This is unacceptable.”
Since Musk’s acquisition of Twitter for $44 billion, the app has been at the center of numerous criticisms, with many experts slamming the “free speech at all costs approach” promoted by Musk as “unattainable.”
In December, Musk announced that he would step down as CEO once he found “someone foolish enough to take the job,” after polling site users on whether he should stay at the helm or not.