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Facebook hides friends lists on accounts in Afghanistan as a safety measure

Facebook’s head of security policy said the company is putting into place security measures for users in Afghanistan, including hiding “friends” lists and adding a tool to quickly lock down accounts. Nathaniel Gleicher said in a thread on Twitter that Facebook made the changes based on feedback from activists, journalists, and civil society groups.

As the Taliban have regained control of the country over the past week, the group has found ways to push its messages on social media, despite being banned by YouTube and Facebook. NBC News reported Friday that people in Afghanistan fearful of the Taliban were deleting from their social media accounts and phones any photos that could show a connection to Western countries, the former Afghan government, or the Afghan military.

People in Afghanistan will now have access to a one-click tool to lock down their Facebook accounts. “When their profile is locked, people who aren’t their friends can’t download or share their profile photo or see posts on their timeline,” Gleicher explained. It’s also removed the ability for users to view and search “Friends” lists for Facebook accounts in Afghanistan, to protect people from being targeted, he added.

On Facebook-owned Instagram, Gleicher said, the company is adding pop-up alerts in Afghanistan that include steps for protecting accounts. He also urged people with friends and family in Afghanistan to tighten their own visibility settings.

Gleicher added that it’s added a special operations center “to respond to new threats as they emerge.” The company is watching the situation closely, he said. “and will take steps to help protect people in real time.”