- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2021

The purge of President Trump and his supporters from social media platforms has not stopped extremists from communicating — it just drove them further underground.

Telegram, a cloud-based messaging platform, saw a surge of 25 million users in a 72-hour period this week and is now struggling with an influx of calls to violence.

The dramatic increase of users worldwide helped Telegram surpass 500 million active users.

“With half a billion active users and accelerating growth, Telegram has become the largest refuge for those seeking a communication platform committed to privacy and security,” Pavel Durov, Telegram founder and a Russian entrepreneur, said in a post on his social media platform. “We take this responsibility very seriously. We won’t let you down.”

Telegram’s emergence prompted some on the left to call for the platform to meet a similar fate as Parler, the social media platform knocked offline by Amazon and removed from the app stores operated by Apple and Google after it became a refuge for pro-Trump voices.

“With Parler down, there are going to be a ton of white supremacists switching to (or back to) @Telegram, a company that has sheltered some of the worst, most explicitly pro-terror Nazi groups for years now,” said Gwen Snyder, an activist and self-described antifascist, on Twitter. “RT to tell @apple and @google to KICK TELEGRAM OFF their app stores, too.”

Telegram has survived calls for its destruction and acknowledged an uptick of calls to violence in recent days. In response to the surge of harmful content, Telegram has taken down dozens of public channels, the platform told CNN.  

Telegram was the second most popular free app in Apple’s App Store on Thursday afternoon, behind only Signal, another secure messaging application that provides users with end-to-end encryption.  

Telegram did not respond to The Washington Times’ request for comment.

Nadim Kobeissi, a computer science researcher, is worried that people training their ire against messaging apps such as Telegram and Signal will harm users’ privacy.

“There’s an argument forming here along the lines of ‘anything that’s used by political crazies effectively inherently becomes unacceptable,’ and I worry this line of thinking is going to try to steamroll over not just free expression but also privacy and end-to-end encryption,” Mr. Kobeissi said on Twitter.

Robert Evans, an investigative journalist focused on extremist groups, said he was concerned that eliminating every platform used by extremists would make it harder to find them as they burrow underground.

“Telegram is not like Parler. It is a popular app all over the world, used by tens of millions of people who are not Nazis for secure communication,” Mr. Evans said on Twitter. “It is also the ideal app to track Nazis on: stable and [easy] to archive.”

The efforts to shove platforms that extremists use offline also leaves people isolated from the online conversation and debate about current events. Twitter effectively began the purge when it permanently suspended Mr. Trump last week. But Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Wednesday evening that with the benefit of hindsight, he has no regrets.

“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter, or how we got here. After a clear warning, we’d take this action, we made a decision with the best information we had based on threats to physical safety both on and off Twitter,” said Mr. Dorsey in a tweet. “Was this correct?”

“I believe this was the right decision for Twitter,” Mr. Dorsey said. 

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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