The Afghan government has rejected a proposal to ban Facebook during an ongoing deadlock over the presidential election after fears that social media postings have fanned ethnic hatred, officials have said.
“The national security council discussed banning of Facebook in their meeting today,” Fayeq Wahedi, deputy presidential spokesman, told AFP news agency on Sunday.
“There are people on Facebook who spread hatred and cause damage to national unity, but after talks the council decided not to ban Facebook.”
The dispute between presedential candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, over the alleged fraud in the June 14 election has triggered bitter internet exchanges between rival supporters that threaten to spill into violence.
Ghani attracts much of his support from the Pashtun tribes of the south and east, while Abdullah’s loyalists are Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups.
Internet use has rocketed in Afghanistan in recent years, and supporters of both sides have been posting hostile messages and photographs since the fraud allegations erupted.
Headed to civil unrest?
Two weeks ago, the United Nations issued a warning that the internet activity could lead to civil unrest.
“There has been a disturbing tone in some social media platforms, and we urge supporters… to refrain from inflammatory statements, hate speech or statements which promote divisive ethnic mobilisation,” Jan Kubis, the UN mission chief, said.
He said that some postings were “rhetoric that brings back memories of tragic, fratricidal, factional conflicts in the 1990s that cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians”.
Abdullah has vowed to reject the election result due to be out on Monday, alleging he is the victim of “industrial-scale” fraud and calling for a thorough audit of ballot papers.
But Ghani claims he won fairly by at least one million votes and said the result must be released on schedule after previous delays.
The dispute has thrown Afghanistan’s first democratic transfer of power into turmoil as US-led troops withdraw after 13 years of fighting the Taliban.