Siddharth Venkataramakrishnan, Financial Times, December 16, 2019
Far-right extremists are migrating to the encrypted messaging app Telegram, known for its crucial role in organising recent resistance movements from Hong Kong to Iran, as other mainstream platforms crack down on hate speech.
The app — which was created by Pavel Durov, founder of Russian social network VKontakte has been used as a rallying platform by protesters around the world in recent months. But according to academics and experts, the same privacy features that make Telegram an effective tool for resisting authoritarian regimes also make it well suited to gathering support for hate groups.
In March, Facebook announced it would ban white nationalism and separatism, having previously limited its restrictions to white supremacist content. YouTube said in June that it would ban neo-Nazi material.
According to Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, far-right extremists have flocked to Telegram over the past year. Exact numbers are hard to find, not least because there is no unified group or ideology, but analysis by Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University, has found thousands of publicly accessible far-right channels on the service.
Users can hold end-to-end encrypted conversations, engage in group chats of up to 200,000 people, and broadcast to effectively unlimited audiences. Telegram also boasts larger upload limits than Facebook’s encrypted messenger WhatsApp, and uploaded content is far easier to search through.
Perhaps most importantly, Telegram’s prohibition of violence in public channels has so far been loosely enforced against the far-right, say experts. While some extremist channels are inaccessible on mobile devices, they can still be found through the desktop app or using workarounds.
In any case, even if Telegram succeeded in removing the far-right, it is likely the extremists would soon find a new digital platform on which to spread their ideologies, say experts.