Increase in online hate speech directed at influential Afghan women since Taliban takeover
Afghan Witness analysis has found that online abuse and disinformation against women in Afghanistan peaked in August and September 2021, and January 2022.
16 Feb 2022
Since October 2021, Afghan Witness (AW) has been monitoring the situation for women in Afghanistan in order to better understand how rules and regulations imposed by the Taliban impact women’s rights.
As a part of this, AW investigators started monitoring online harassment and disinformation targeting Afghan women’s rights activists.
Collaborating with experts in online gendered hate speech, investigators consolidated an extensive list of common curse words in Pashto, Dari and Farsi, which were cross-checked against 102 Twitter profiles of popular female Afghan influencers. These variables were measured over a timeframe from January 2021 to January 2022, assessing how frequently keywords and profile mentions were crossposted.
The results indicate that online abuse and disinformation against women has significantly increased since the Taliban takeover, with spikes in August and September 2021 and January 2022.
The sudden structural increase of Tweets containing harassment or disinformation in August 2021 coincides with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. The first significant increase in targeted harassment and disinformation occurred on August 18 2021, three days after the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
The preliminary analysis only focuses on direct mentions of the 102 female profiles listed, and does not include tweets referring to women by name or other terms. As a result, the absolute numbers of online harassment targeting women are inevitably higher.
The graph shows several ‘peaks’ - days on which the measured frequency of keywords used in relation to profile mentions suddenly increased exponentially. An example of this is September 7, when thousands of people took to the streets in Kabul to protest against the Taliban and Pakistan.
The largest proportion of the hate speech directed at the list of influential Afghan women concerned sexualised abuse and disinformation, often including the word ‘Prostitute’. One such example is a tweet directed at Rabia Sadat, an Afghan journalist, stating: “I had sex with this prostitute several times and now I want to publish her sex movie.” Other frequent derogatives identified were terms such as ‘Pakistani Prostitute’ or ‘International Prostitute’.
Analysis shows that the majority of online harassment targeting the listed female influencers (by both men and women) was posted by accounts registered as male and based in Afghanistan. However, accounts were also identified in the US, Pakistan, and the UK.
AW investigators will continue to monitor and analyse online abuse and disinformation against Afghan women as part of AW’s larger projects on gender.