Secure messaging service Telegram announced today that it blocked access to 78 public channels on its network that were being used to spread terror-related content pertaining to ISIS across 12 languages this week.
Telegram noted that it acted on users’ reports to find and shut down the channels in question, which can be shared with just a URL to any number of people. In its publicly accessible Telegram News channel, a company spokesperson said:
We were disturbed to learn that Telegram’s public channels were being used by ISIS to spread their propaganda.
We are carefully reviewing all reports sent to us at email@example.com and are taking appropriate action to block such channels.
As a result, this week alone we blocked 78 ISIS-related channels across 12 languages.
We are also introducing an easier way for our users to report objectionable public content in the upcoming update of Telegram this week.
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Reuters reports that Rita Katz, director of US-based extremist monitoring service SITE Intelligence Group, said that some of these channels had over 10,000 followers and that a number of them became unavailable on Wednesday.
Telegram explained that one-on-one and group chats (which support up to 200 users) are entirely private, but sticker sets, bots and channels are publicly available and hence subject to takedown requests.
User-uploaded stickers sets, channels, and bots by third-party developers are not part of the core Telegram UI. Whenever we receive a complaint at firstname.lastname@example.org regarding the legality of public content, we perform the necessary legal checks and take it down when deemed appropriate.
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.
The Middle East Media Research Institute reported in October that ISIS used Telegram channels to securely share tutorials on “manufacturing weapons and launching cyberattacks” and even implemented bots to aid their activities.
While Telegram’s move to block public channels might make it difficult for ISIS to communicate with uninitiated users on the network, members of the terrorist outfit will still be able to talk to each other in private and group chats securely, as the service is encrypted and works on a range of devices.
Telegram’s crackdown isn’t the only thing ISIS has to worry about in cyberspace. Hacktivist collective Anonymous declared “total war” on the terrorist group earlier this week and published a list of more than 100 sites linked to Islamic State. It’s also trying to get more people involved and has posted a beginner’s guide to hacking to help them along.