Facebook announces safety features for users in Afghanistan

20 Aug 2021

Kabul, Afghanistan. Image: © mbrand85 /Stock.adobe.com

Head of security policy Nathaniel Gleicher said the tools were ‘informed by feedback from activists, journalists and civil society groups’.

Facebook’s head of security policy has announced a suite of features to help users in Afghanistan secure their accounts.

Nathaniel Gleicher detailed the policies in a Twitter thread in response to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban and the group’s de facto takeover of the country as a whole.

“Like so many others, many of us at Facebook have been watching the tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan,” he said. “Over the past week, our teams have been working around the clock to do everything we can to help keep people safe.

“Many of these [tools] were informed by feedback from activists, journalists and civil society groups.”

Chief among the announced features is a “one-click tool” for Afghan users to lock down their accounts, preventing anyone not already friends with them from seeing any part of it, including their profile photo.

The social network also disabled viewing and searching the ‘friends’ list for accounts located in Afghanistan, Gleicher said, “to help protect people from being targeted”. Instagram will feature “pop-up alerts” for users in the country with “specific steps on how to protect your account”.

Gleicher also said the company was working closely with counterparts in industry, civil society and government “to provide whatever support” it can. “And we’ve stood up a special operations centre to respond to new threats as they emerge.”

He noted that Facebook’s platforms are “only one piece of the online environment” and concluded by attaching a number of links to online privacy and security guides, aimed at journalists, activists and other figures who may be targeted in Afghanistan or “any high-risk environment”.

The use of technology to target journalists and activists is a long-established practice that is only becoming more prevalent. Pegasus spyware was recently discovered to have been used by governments around the world to target critics and opponents.

Jack Kennedy is a freelance journalist based in Dublin