Credit: Screenshots from BBC News Facebook

The news cycle has been dominated by the events unfolding in Afghanistan, as the Taliban gained control of the country in the wake of the withdrawal of US troops.

BBC News has been seeking to cover this story by focusing on explainer content and human voices on social media.

The BBC’s social media journalists analysed and worked with real-time social and search data, identifying and answering major questions from audience members – ranging from Who are the Taliban? to What is Sharia Law?

"Our live pages are always at the heart of our coverage, across the website and on social. Working with writers and subs, we identify trending subjects, and align social coverage to big moments in the live page," says Jonny McGuigan, senior journalist, BBC News Social in an email to Journalism.co.uk.

But on the @bbcnews Instagram account, slides answering questions on 'Who are the Taliban?' and 'What did we learn from the Taliban’s first press conference since taking control?' both saw more than five times the average number of swipe-ups per slide in the month of July, setting new records for the public broadcaster.

"Ensuring both the domestic and international audiences outside Afghanistan were provided with answers to key questions, like where refugees would be housed, or what would happen next – was crucial. By ensuring we provided this content off-site, we tapped into a wider desire in the audience for insight and knowledge," added Kierra Liew, assistant editor, BBC News Social, also via email.

Stark pictures and video from Afghanistan have also been widely shared, including exclusive BBC reporting inside Afghanistan, user-generated content of people trying to leave Kabul and the BBC phone call with the Taliban. All of its Afghanistan-related content has seen more than 150m views across social platforms in the last month (between 2 August and 2 September).

This figure applies to the BBC News social-media platforms in English, including BBC News channels on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and key BBC News Twitter accounts such as Breaking, World, UK, Politics, Breakfast and Newsnight.

"We often see human stories resonate with the audience on social, and this has been the case with Afghanistan," Liew added.

Another approach was inviting celebrities to tell stories of young Afghan women.

Last week, American actress Angelina Jolie worked as a co-producer with BBC News presenter Yalda Hakim for a video dubbed Afghan Girls: An Uncertain Future. It highlights the dangers faced by women and girls In Afghanistan under the Taliban. Jolie, who has an Instagram following of more than 10m, has seen the video surface nearly 3m views on the platform.

Hakim was the journalist who was widely praised for expertly handling the live interview with Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen directly on her mobile phone.

She has been reporting from Afghanistan for more than a decade and has recently presented a two-part series for BBC Our World and a BBC Panorama programme called Return of the Taliban which marked the withdrawal of American and allied forces from Afghanistan after 20 years. 

This is also not Jolie's first gig with the broadcaster. She started working in January 2020 as an executive producer and was also a guest editor of Woman’s Hour and the Today programme on BBC Radio 4, and on BBC News' World on the Move project in May 2017.

The use of celebrity figures in journalism has often been criticised, but the BBC said: "As with all editorial content that appears under its name, the BBC has final editorial approval."

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