Dark social platforms such as the instant messaging service Telegram are attractive to the alternative-right scene, since messages and content can be shared relatively safely as well as undisturbed by any content moderation. Telegram, founded in Russia, now headquartered in Dubai, has 200 million users worldwide but there are no figures for Germany. Selected Telegram channels – including those with right-wing extremist content – are blocked on Apple’s iPhones; however, there are now workarounds even for that, so much so that measures are only symbolic, but not practically applicable. Another problem is that there is a lack of transparency as to what criteria the large high-tech company uses to block content. Organised right-wing extremists prefer Telegram over WhatsApp, since WhatsApp has a group chat limit of 256 members, while Telegram’s groups can include up to 200,000 members and its channels can hold an unlimited number of subscribers. Around mid-2018, the US neo-Nazi website “Daily Stormer” explicitly recommended that readers use Telegram. And even before right-wing extremists discovered its utility for their purposes, Telegram was used by Islamist terror groups. However, Telegram itself now concedes that it will pass on IP addresses and telephone numbers of terrorist suspects in the event of a court order.
Size distribution of Telegram channels evaluated in de:hate’s monitoring (total: 197 channels)
A typical example of the extreme right-wing use of Telegram is the channel belonging to Austrian “Generation Identity” [Identitäre Bewegung] frontman Martin Sellner. Since he blocked by major social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram in 2019, he has retreated to Telegram – obviously with success because his channel has over 35,000 subscribers (as of September 2019). In addition to announcements, links to his YouTube videos and memes or videos to share, which he created specifically for the channel, Sellner called, among other things, for the creation of local groups in the respective areas. Telegram offers the feature of highlighting other Telegram users in the vicinity – this can be used by right-wing extremist channels for networking. Moreover, in Germany, too, groups ranging from violent right-wing extremists to right-wing terrorists are organized in closed groups on Telegram. For instance, the National Socialist group “Nordadler” [Northern Eagle] networked here. The right-wing extremist prepper network with involvement in the German armed forces and police “Nord- / Ost- / Süd- / West-Kreuz” [Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western Cross] and “Revolution Chemnitz” organised themselves here and planned attacks, some of which in great detail.
Functions of Telegram channels and groups that were evaluated (Merchandising; Networking; Right-wing Media; YouTubers; News Aggregators)
Overview of Social Media Platforms
The article is part of an overview of the social media platforms that are relevant for monitoring activities of the right-wing populist to right-wing extremist online scene conducted by the project de:hate by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation. In general, it should be noted that different platforms are used for different purposes and interests. Additionally, different audiences are drawn in depending on the platform. For example, people in their thirties and above use Facebook the most by far, while Instagram is the most used platform for adolescents.
A rough distinction can be made between the large, public platforms and the so-called dark social, i.e. messenger services with closed communication. People increasingly fall back on the latter, since platform-specific guidelines have been enforced more consistently since 2018 and new guidelines have been added, such as the ban on content on “White Nationalism” or the classification of “identitarian” accounts as a hate organization and their subsequent bans on Facebook and Instagram. As a result, extreme content is discussed less openly on the large platforms or only with language adapted to the respective rules.
All phenomena from the right-wing populist to the far-right spectrum are included in the monitoring exercise. For this purpose, selected channels are checked regularly with the help of algorithmic support. After significant incidents, channels are examined for relevant information in a target-specific fashion.
Themes of Telegram channels and groups that were evaluated (Right-wing Parties; Gender; Memes, Criminal Offences; Generation Identity; Demonstrations / Actions; Music; Conspiracies; National Socialism)
Translated as part of the cooperation with the international Anti-Hate-Project Get the Trolls Out.