Telegram's Troublesome Timeline

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Encrypted messaging app Telegram is becoming a headache for governments across the world for not taking action against extremist content.

  • Telegram, the end-to-end encrypted messaging service, was founded in 2013 by Russian duo Pavel and Nikolai Durov. Pavel also founded VKontakte, Russia’s take on Facebook.
  • With 550 million monthly active users, Telegram ranks as the 5th most popular global messaging service. Apart from Chinese apps WeChat and QQ, it’s second only to WhatsApp and Messenger.
  • One of its USPs is end-to-end encryption which benefits people living under distatorships. But on the flip-side it’s also a platform favoured by the criminally minded to spread hate.
  • In the US and Germany, for instance, Telegram has become the medium of choice for groups such as QAnon, Querdenkers among others to spew anti-Semitic hate and conspiracy theories.
  • Lot of German Telegram groups are being used to put out a “hit-list” of politicians who enforce Covid rules. Many of these groups have tens of thousands of active followers.
  • Telegram’s refusal to co-operate with authorities and take down extremist content has been a matter of annoyance for many governments.
  • It used to be a messaging platform of choice for Islamic State militants till Telegram decided to co-operate with Europol to block that content. But this was a rare instance.
  • In places where free speech is stifled, Telegram has been a blessing. One of the best examples is how Telegram outmanoeuvred Russian state telco and eventually made the Kremlin blink.
  • In Belarus and Iran, where free press is a luxury, Telegram channels have been parallel media outlets to inform the public about real unfiltered news.
  • There have been calls for banning the use of Telegram if it does not co-operate with government authorities to take down extremist content. But banning it would be a slippery slope.
  • Ann Cathrin Riedel, from the Association of Liberal Internet Policy notes, "Radical thoughts do not disappear when you block a messenger service, people just move on to another platform."
  • In this reading, we find out what’s causing government backlash against Telegram, why its founder is so reclusive and how powerful a tool it can be, against authoritarian regimes.
The Washington Post
Der Spiegel
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