Private Chat App Telegram’s Effort to Delete ISIS Accounts Too Slow to Stop Them

The Telegram messenger application announced they blocked at least 78 Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) accounts in twelve languages. However, just like Twitter, new ISIS accounts form just as soon as the service deletes the old ones.

“We were disturbed to learn that Telegram’s public channels were being used by ISIS to spread their propaganda,” stated the company. “As a result, this week alone we blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages.”

Developers said an update later this week will include “an easier way for users to report ‘objectionable public content.’”

Telegram released another statement to assure its customers they will not block all speech:

Please note that this does not apply to local restrictions on freedom of speech. For example, if criticizing the government is illegal in a country, Telegram won’t be a part of such politically motivated censorship. This goes against our founders’ principles. While we do block terrorist (e.g. ISIS-related) bots and channels, we will not block anybody who peacefully expresses alternative opinions.

Despite blocking the accounts, ISIS continues to use private members-only channels. The channel Trendit has 500 followers. Channels for ISIS “supporters in Indonesia remained up” as well.

“The problem with blocking Telegram groups, like suspending Twitter or Facebook accounts, is that it becomes a game for IS supporters to see how fast they can get up another account,” explained researcher Sidney Jones, who runs think-tank Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

ISIS switched to Telegram over two months ago, which offers its member a secure way to message friends. Brothers Pavel and Nicolay Durov, who founded Russia’s social media network Vkontakte, developed Telegram in 2013. They wanted a way to “communicate with friends and colleagues without interference from the Kremlin.”

In September, the company offered public broadcasting channels as “a new tool for broadcasting your messages to large audiences.”

“Channels replace the old Broadcast lists and are better in every way. They can have an unlimited number of members, they can be public with a permanent URL and each post in a channel has its own view counter,” the company wrote on its website when the channels launched.

That same month, Pavel admitted terrorists used his program, but also “said that privacy takes precedent over preventing terrorism.”

“Privacy is ultimately more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism,” he said at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference. “If you look at ISIS, yes, there’s a war going on in the Middle East. Ultimately, ISIS will find a way to communicate with its cells, and if any means doesn’t feel secure to them, they’ll [find something else]. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it. We’re still doing the right thing, protecting our users’ privacy.”


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