Telegram begins removing American extremist content from messaging app

The popular encrypted messaging app Telegram has begun removing far-right American extremist content from its platform, according to an NBC News report.The Dubai-based platform has so far removed “at least” 15 channels dedicated to sharing extremist views. The removed channels featured content encompassing topics from white supremacy to pro-Nazism to violent rhetoric surrounding the insurrection at the Capitol.Far-Right groups that appeared at the Capitol riot on January 6 maintain a vigorous online presence on digital platforms like Parler, Gab, MeWe, Zello and Telegram, and in some cases discussed using overwhelming crowds to enter the Capitol building, said Jared Holt, a disinformation researcher at the Atlantic Council. Terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State (ISIS), the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group and the Palestinian Hamas run channels dedicated to disseminating political views and organizational news, and to frequently claim responsibility for terror attacks taking place around the world.According to the NBC report, one deleted group – who defined themselves as “eco-fascists” – posted Army manuals to their channel detailing the process of creating bombs and munitions. “We have seen some incredible growth on our humble channel over the past few days,” an admin for a channel promoting Nazi content wrote within the group, according to NBC. “We are working on alternative communication methods, but it appears several large channels are getting removed by Telegram as I type this.”Signal and Telegram messaging apps are seeing a sudden increase in demand after larger rival WhatsApp’s updated terms of service raised eyebrows on social media. Telegram was infamous in Israel for the illegal drug-exchange service Telegrass, which would facilitate the exchange of cannabis, although police claim that other drugs were also exchanged such as MDMA (ecstasy) and psychedelic drugs. Telegrass consisted of dozens of administrators from various senior ranks and thousands of dealers, and was estimated to have more than 100,000 members. The organization’s monthly earnings were reported at around NIS 60 million.WhatsApp, which uses Signal’s encryption technology, laid out fresh terms on Wednesday, asking users to agree to let owner Facebook Inc and its subsidiaries collect user data, including their phone number and location.Some privacy activists questioned the “accept our data grab or get out” move on Twitter, and suggested users to switch to apps like Signal and Telegram.
SIGNAL’S POPULARITY shot up further on Thursday after it was endorsed by Elon Musk, who has one of the most-followed accounts on Twitter, and by the micro-blogging site’s top boss Jack Dorsey.More than 100,000 users installed Signal across the app stores of Apple and Google in the last two days, while Telegram picked up nearly 2.2 million downloads, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower.New installations of WhatsApp fell 11% in the first seven days of 2021 compared with the prior week, but that still amounted to an estimated 10.5 million downloads globally, Sensor Tower said.Social media companies have moved swiftly to crack down on US President Donald Trump and some of his prominent right-wing allies and supporters in the wake of the turmoil in Washington on Wednesday, which led to five deaths.Twitter Inc said on Friday that it has permanently suspended Trump’s account due to the risk of further incitement of violence following the storming of the US Capitol, in addition to 70,000 accounts dedicated to spreading QAnon content. It was the first time Twitter has banned a head of state, the company confirmed.Facebook Inc said earlier this week that it was suspending his account at least until the end of his presidential term.YouTube said on Tuesday it has suspended the president’s channel as it violated policies for inciting violence after last week’s assault on the US Capitol by the president’s Inc also suspended Parler, a social media platform favored by many Trump supporters, from its web hosting service.With online platforms distanced themselves from, and took action against, those who encouraged or engaged in the violence in the US capitol, as well as WhatsApp’s new terms of service, Telegram’s popularity exploded as a potential safe haven for privacy to survive and extremist content to thrive. Telegram will now be tasked with the added responsibility of either policing the array of extremist content that will inevitably materialize on its platform within the coming months, or making the decision to let it run wild and free. Either that or join the ranks of the online platforms who have already taken steps to silence the racist and violent rhetoric from running rampant across their platforms. 

Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.


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