Telegram, a Dubai-based chat app that has attracted a raft of new users, has triggered a rare purification of American extremist content, purse-running on other sites, including some remote Trump supporters.
At least 15 extremist telegram channels – similar to chatrooms where founders have little power – have recently been banned, according to a tally from NBC News. The material has been censored over many others.
Some supporters of Trump have in recent days moved to Telegram to plan violence on January 20, the day Biden is to be inaugurated.
One of the removed channels, which declared itself “eco-fascist”, hosted white-dominated content from its inception in early June. In the wake of the January 6 riots at USCapitol, its users posted an army manual with information on bombings and cease-fire.
A professor of computer science at Elon University and a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, Megan Squire, who monitors extremist groups, said Telegram’s approach to moderating extremist content becomes “ugly”, Many restrictions are new.
“Most of these channels that have been banned in the past have remained for months or years,” Squire said. “I have been personally attacked on these channels before, and this is definitely new action on their behalf.”
Despite being removed, many other channels open to the public are still posting explicitly white supremacist and pro-Nazi content.
“We have seen some incredible growth on our humble channel over the last few days,” one apparently a moderator of the Nazi channel wrote.
“We are working on alternative communication methods, but it appears that many large channels are being removed by Telegram as I type this.”
Telegram did not respond to a request for comment. The company, founded in 2013 by Russian-origin Pavel Drov, who fled Vladimir Putin’s government, has historically been reluctant to restrain its users. ISIS began openly removing channels in 2015 following the terrorist attacks in Paris, killing more than 125 people.
Right-wing extremist content has remained intact on social media for years, and major forums are reluctant to censor it. Facebook banned content such as claims of white supremacy in 2019, and in 2018 Twitter began banning some high-profile accounts that violated its policies on abuse and harassment.
However, Trump efforts intensified after a storm struck the Capitol last week. Twitter banned more than 70,000 accounts that pushed the QAnon conspiracy theories, and it and Facebook banned Trump’s accounts citing fears that he would use them to incite more violence.
Some conservative users had switched from Parler to Telegram, a platform such as Twitter that was considered a safe haven for right-wing speech. But Apple and Google recently removed the Parler app from their app stores, and Amazon Web Services, which hosted the service, closed it in violation of the terms of service. Parler’s future remains uncertain, and its CEO has publicly doubted whether it will return.
On Tuesday, Durov posted that Telegram had passed 500 million monthly users, of which 25 million had joined in the last three days. There are very few signs that Trump supporter extremists are a big part of those users. Most of the new users were from Asia, Europe and Latin America, he said.
He said that a clear reference to changing WhatsApp’s terms of service “people should no longer be held hostage by technological monopolies”. WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is Telegram’s closest rival.
The telegram also marked an account that belonged to Trump, which had stored Trump’s tweet for years, but in recent days began posting official White House statements that had a red “SCAM” tag on Wednesday .
NBC News National Security Analyst, former Assistant FBI Director Frank Figuluzzi, said such cracks help keep violent extremists away and think about where to go next.
“As they scramble to find new homes, they inevitably make mistakes and leave clues and scars that law enforcement can use to identify and defeat them,” Figlies said.