NEW YORK (AFP) – The Telegram messaging app has become a go-to platform since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite concerns over its data security and defences against misinformation.
It has benefitted from the gap left by Russia’s blocking of Facebook and Instagram, offering a platform for mass messaging in a way similar to social media.
The platform also provides one of the last windows on Russia, but also an open channel to the horrors facing an under siege Ukraine.
“Our main hope is connected with Telegram channel,” Galina Timchenko, director of the independent news site Meduza that Russia has moved to block, told the Committee to Protect Journalists.
According to daily figures provided by Telegram, the app has been downloaded more than 150 million times since the beginning of the year, with the official figure of half a billion active users dating back to January last year.
Prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Telegram benefitted from not using the same economic model of the big American platforms that generate revenue with data on their users.
Downloads jumped last year when a report from ProPublica investigative journalists claimed that Facebook teams were viewing messages sent via WhatsApp, contrary to company assurances.
At the same time, Telegram has benefitted from the image of its creators, brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, Russian citizens who left their home country in 2014.
Under pressure from the the authorities, Mr Nikolai Durov sold his stake in VK, which he had created, rather than hand over the personal data of activists to the government.
“Telegram is now a very nice revenge story, and we all love a good revenge story,” said Professor Enrique Dans, who specialises in information systems at the IE Business School in Madrid.
“Will that be enough to make Telegram the world’s favourite messaging app? That’s a whole lot to say. The app still has a lot of things to demonstrate in areas such as security, encryption and business model,” he added.
While the platform run from Dubai claims to be secure, it does not encrypt messages by default, as does the Meta owned WhatsApp says it does.
In addition, “Telegram’s profile has grown enormously in recent weeks, and that has raised the stakes about the impact of misinformation on the platform”, said Enders Analysis media analyst Jamie MacEwan.