Most people use instant messaging services every day to stay in touch with friends and family. In Ireland, Meta (formerly Facebook) Messenger and WhatsApp are the most popular. However, some people use other instant messaging solutions such as Telegram. Some praise it, others are less comfortable with it; let’s find out what Telegram is, what we know about its creator Pavel Durov, and whether it can be considered safe.
What is Telegram?
Telegram is a popular cross-platform messaging app. It is not tied to any other social network (for example, you need a Facebook account to use Messenger), which makes it very attractive to many people.
The app works on both phones (iOS and Android) and computers (Windows and macOS), while Telegram desktop works on Windows, Mac and Linux. It can also be used with a web browser. Telegram is available online for free.
The platform is not very different from other messengers. It shows contact details and the current conversation field. You can transfer files, record voice messages, share your location, add emoticons, GIFs and stickers.
Telegram also has a ‘People nearby’ option, which according to its description allows users to find new friends and other people. In this mode, users can also join different groups or create their own. Other interesting options include customising the Telegram conversation window. Switch to night mode, change the colour theme (you can do this yourself!), message size and much more.
Moreover, Telegram offers unlimited cloud storage and automatic synchronization across all platforms.
Telegram has end-to-end encryption. With this security feature, messages sent from a particular device are encrypted on that device. Only when the message reaches its destination is it decrypted by the application on the other device.
This means that it cannot be intercepted and read by anyone en route. However, it should be noted that this only applies to private messages with individual users. Group chats are not encrypted.
The app uses its own encryption method, which is different from Signal and WhatsApp. This makes it slower to develop and unfortunately also very difficult to get right, making it easier to hack.
The ‘Russian Zuckerberg’ broadcast.
The creator of Telegram is Pavel Durov, a Russian entrepreneur, programmer and billionaire. He is the driving force behind the hugely successful VK, a social network that is popular in Russian-speaking countries and confusingly similar to Facebook. Unfortunately, he is also the reason why Durov was recognised by the Russian authorities.
Opposition groups called for demonstrations through VK, but the Kremlin was not happy about this and ordered Durov to stop. When he resisted, armed special police units came to his door three days later. It was at this point that Durov realised he needed a secure channel to communicate with his brother, and having none, he began to develop one; in 2013, Telegram was born.
Currently, “Russian Zuckerberg” does not grant interviews and communicates with the company only through his Telegram account. He has been out of Russia since 2014, when he was removed as CEO of VK. The portal was taken over by allies of Vladimir Putin, and the reason was his refusal to publish the personal details of people who were part of a group involved in demonstrations in Ukraine.
Next to WhatsApp and Messenger, Telegram is the most popular instant messenger on the market. Already in 2016, more than 100 million users used it. Telegram is more popular than ever since the start of the pandemic. This is because the service does not hand over data to authorities and does not exclude controversial content, including coronavirus-related content.
Posts on Telegram are not subject to any scrutiny, just like fibre broadband supplied by Atlantek Broadband which is why the app has become so popular during the pandemic for people whose accounts have been blocked on other platforms for spreading false information and inciting hatred.
The fact that anyone can post anything on the app attracts not only conspiracy theorists, but also people who aren’t afraid of illegal activity – fake COVID-19 vaccination cards are sold there, as well as various types of drugs, medicines and even weapons.
In Germany, there has recently been a proposal to shut down Telegram because of its alleged use by right-wing extremists and other radical groups. However, this idea has been widely criticised.
False information about the war in Ukraine on Telegram
Because of the ongoing war in Ukraine, there is a lot of misinformation online. The Telegram platform is no different. The app is used to spread fake news about the conflict. Pavel Durov urges people to check the authenticity of the information, as the service does not have the physical ability to verify the authenticity of each publication.
The founder of Telegram also said that if the conflict escalates, the possibility of restricting full or partial access to the platform in Russia and Ukraine will be considered. However, this idea will not be implemented for now, as for many users it is currently the only source of information.