With many social networks suddenly reevaluating their policies in light of political violence in the U.S., the popular messaging app Telegram is implementing a crackdown of its own.
Telegram confirmed to TechCrunch that it has removed “dozens” of public channels over the course of the last 24 hours after those accounts, some of which have thousands of followers. “Our Terms of Service expressly forbid public calls to violence,” Telegram spokesperson Mike Ravdonikas told TechCrunch.
Asked if those takedowns relate to last week’s violent siege of the U.S. Capitol, Ravdonikas said that Telegram is “monitoring the current situation closely.”
The company confirmed that a number of accounts TechCrunch had previously observed promoting white supremacy, Nazi iconography and other forms of far-right extremism were part of the new enforcement action, which is still expanding. Some of the blocked channels were still viewable on Telegram’s web client Wednesday.
One of those groups bemoaned Telegram’s bans Tuesday in a post displaying a Nazi flag and the warning “you can’t kill an idea.” Prior to being taken down Wednesday, that channel boasted more than 10,000 followers.
Many extremist channels began publicizing backup accounts Tuesday, pointing subscribers to dozens of other groups where they could continue to gather. Other sympathetic channels chronicled the bans in real-time, posting screenshots documenting violations of Telegram’s terms of service.
Telegram’s new batch of takedowns appears to be connected to an effort by self-described anti-fascist and activist Gwen Snyder, who marshaled Twitter users in a “mass-reporting campaign” following last week’s violent invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
“For years, we’ve been tracking these Nazi Terrorgram channels and reporting horrendous, explicit calls to racist violence and insurrection, and Telegram did nothing,” Snyder told TechCrunch. “It worked, and Telegram is finally dismantling the network of Nazi channels that have spent months and years overtly attempting to incite just the sort of terror we saw in DC.”
With Telegram channels blaming Snyder for the takedowns, her home address has widely circulated on the app in an ongoing doxing campaign. On one channel calling for her death, an image depicts Snyder’s face with a bloody hole in its forehead. Another image includes an address, screenshots of her Twitter posts and the text “You know what to do.”
Snyder says she heard pounding on her door Tuesday night. “My address is all over those channels with people saying I should be shot and raped for this, and they only have to convince one person.”
With President Trump suspended from most major social media platforms and restrictions tightening on pro-Trump conspiracies like QAnon and the Stop the Steal movement, the president’s followers have fled in droves to platforms that remain willing to incubate extremism.
Prominent among those is Parler, a social network hailed by many pro-Trump figures as a politically friendly alternative to mainstream social media. But with Parler offline after Amazon suspended the account’s web hosting services and Apple and Google booted it from their respective app stores, a number of users flocked to more private options where violent extremism continues to flourish, including Telegram.
This story is developing…