Far-right extremists flock to protest messaging app Telegram

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.
The far-right has come under increasing scrutiny from major social platforms in the wake of multiple US mass shootings. 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.

The types of extremist content appearing on the platform range from memes and in-jokes to propaganda images glorifying acts of violence, while some users parrot the language of mass shooters such as those behind the Charleston church killings in 2015 and Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand March this year.
Some channels are digital libraries, intermingling white nationalist texts such as Mein Kampf and The Turner Diaries with instructions on how to make homemade weapons or run a militia. Others provide lists of who to follow, divided up by interest and language. In several cases, the home addresses of political opponents are circulated.
Compared with mainstream platforms, Telegram had limitations for network-building, said Ms Squire. Most far-right channels have just a few hundred to a few thousand followers, limiting their ability to solicit donations. Unlike platforms such as Twitter, Telegram is also relatively isolated from wider political discourse.
Nevertheless the platform has other useful features for extremists. 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.
“Telegram allows these people to do whatever the hell they want, how they want, in a way they can’t do on the mainstream platforms,” said Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
Telegram’s treatment of white nationalists contrasts with last month’s crackdown on Islamist extremists, said Maura Conway, professor of law and government at Dublin City University. She said the decimation of Islamist networks is the result of pressure on the messenger from law enforcement agencies, particularly of the last few years. 

Ahmet Yayla, director at DeSales University’s Center for Homeland Security, said Isis-related groups were early adopters of Telegram, using it to co-ordinate attacks such as the 2016 New Year’s Eve shooting in Istanbul.
“There is blood on Telegram’s hands for allowing these extremists and terrorists to use this platform,” said Mr Yayla. Telegram did not respond to a request to comment for this article.
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. “They’ve wheedled their way into every sector,” said Ms Beirich. “Any time a new technology pops up, they try to use it to their advantage.”

Source: https://www.ft.com/content/5e05fc9e-1c35-11ea-97df-cc63de1d73f4


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