Prepare for cognitive dissonance: members of the Taliban are posing as bikini babes on Facebook to spy on coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to the Australia Daily Telegraph, which cited pre-deployment briefings by the Australian military for soldiers headed to Afghanistan.
The briefings warn that the “Taliban have used pictures of attractive women as the front of their Facebook profiles and have befriended soldiers” with an eye to gleaning useful intelligence. While the Australian military didn’t cite examples of specific breaches, it’s not hard to imagine soldiers carelessly mentioning details of where they are stationed, what unit they’re with, what their daily schedule is, where they’re headed next, or other information that could give the Taliban a window into coalition plans.
In the same briefings, soldiers are warned that social media poses other risks as well: automatic geo-tagging can reveal their location involuntarily, and family and friends may inadvertently reveal sensitive information in online posts as well. The report cautions that most social media users rely excessively on privacy settings, resulting in “a false sense of security,” and notes somewhat ruefully that “many individuals who use social media are extremely trusting.”
The Taliban have used social media for propaganda purposes, including, on occasion, open confrontations with coalition spokespeople. In September of last year, I wrote about an online Twitter duel between a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and a spokesman for the Taliban about their respective treatment of Afghan civilians, tactics and strategy, and prospects for winning the war.
More recently, Indian home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde accused terrorist groups based in Pakistan of using social media to stir up trouble by fomenting fears that people from northeast India would be targeted for retribution by Muslim vigilantes following attacks on Muslims in the northeast. Rumors of communal violence, shared socially and through mass text messages, helped trigger an exodus of thousands of northeast Indians from the country’s big cities.