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Telegram says it ‘shut down hundreds of public calls for violence’ in US last week

Telegram says it ‘shut down hundreds of public calls for violence’ in US last week


The service ‘welcomes peaceful debate and protest,’ says CEO Pavel Durov

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amid rising political tensions in the United States, Telegram founder Pavel Durov says his chat service has taken down hundreds of public calls for violence, in accordance with the platform’s terms of service.

In a public Telegram post on Monday, Durov emphasized the service’s commitment to banning speech that actively incites violence. “Telegram welcomes peaceful debate and protest, but our Terms of Service explicitly prohibit distributing public calls to violence,” he wrote. “Сivil movements all over the world rely on Telegram in order to stand up for human rights without resorting to inflicting harm.”

Notably, the post does not address Telegram’s end-to-end encrypted chat feature, which protects conversations from outside access and thus is not subject to centralized moderation. Telegram has moderated against violence and terrorism in public rooms, but resisted mounting pressures to make those conversations more accessible to law enforcement. The rise of pro-Trump extremist violence in the United States has rekindled the country’s debate about the value of encryption, and reinvigorated calls to weaken privacy protections for encrypted chat services.

Durov said that Telegram had seen the same spike in violent threats that other US services have reported during the past month. “In early January, the Telegram moderation team started to receive an increased number of reports about US-related public activity on our platform,” the post reads. “The team acted decisively by clamping down on US channels that advocated violence. Thanks to these efforts, last week our moderators blocked and shut down hundreds of public calls for violence that could’ve otherwise reached tens of thousands of subscribers.”

Telegram has seen a significant boost in users over the same period, in the wake of a disastrous change to WhatsApp’s privacy policy that led many to flee the service. Signal also gained millions of users during the exodus, putting so much strain on the service’s infrastructure that it became inaccessible for more than 24 hours.

The sudden risk of political violence in the US has put unprecedented pressure on services that fail to moderate violent threats — most notably Parler, which became inaccessible after abruptly losing its hosting service last week. Amazon Web Services, Parler’s hosting provider at the time, had reported more than a hundred violent threats on the network over the course of weeks, all of which Parler said did not violate its terms of service. In the wake of the Capitol Raid, AWS cut ties with the company, which combined with similar actions from Apple and Google to render the social network entirely inoperable. Parler posted a brief message to users on Sunday, but has yet to fully restore service.

Update 1/20 11:06AM ET: Clarified that Telegram’s Secret chat offers end-to-end encryption specifically, which is distinct from the SSL encryption that protects all Telegram traffic.