While Facebook and Instagram are banned in Russia, Telegram explodes
Telegram has taken advantage of the vacuum left by Russia’s blocking of Facebook and Instagram, offering a mass messaging platform in a way similar to social media.
Messaging app Telegram has become a go-to platform since Russia invaded Ukraine, despite concerns about its data security and defenses against misinformation.
It took advantage of the vacuum left by Russia’s blocking of Facebook and Instagram, offering a mass messaging platform in a way similar to social media.
The platform also offers one of the last windows into Russia, but also an open channel into the horrors facing a beleaguered Ukraine.
“Our main hope is linked to the Telegram channel,” Galina Timchenko, director of the independent news site Meduza, which Russia decided 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 start of the year, with the official figure of half a billion active users dating back to January 2021.
Prior to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Telegram benefited from not using the same business model as the major US platforms that generate revenue with data about their users.
Downloads jumped in 2021 when a report by ProPublica investigative journalists claimed that Facebook teams were viewing messages sent via WhatsApp, contrary to company assurances.
At the same time, Telegram benefited from the image of its creators, the brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, Russian citizens who left their country of origin in 2014.
Under pressure from the authorities, Nikolai sold his stake in VK, which he had created, rather than hand over the activists’ personal data to the government.
“Telegram is now a very nice revenge story, and we all love a good revenge story,” said Enrique Dans, a professor specializing in information systems at IE Business School in Madrid.
“Will this be enough to make Telegram the world’s favorite messaging app? That’s a lot to say. The app still has a lot to prove in areas like security, encryption, and model business,” he added.
While the Dubai-run platform claims to be secure, it does not encrypt messages by default, as Meta-owned WhatsApp claims.
Additionally, “Telegram’s profile has grown tremendously in recent weeks, and that has raised the stakes as to the impact of misinformation on the platform,” said Jamie MacEwan, media analyst at Enders Analysis.
Messaging platforms in general have long been criticized for their ability to fight misinformation.
Contacted by AFP, Telegram says it employs “several hundred professional moderators to ensure the security of the platform for users”, a team that “is constantly growing”.
“Meta employs tens of thousands of moderators and huge issues are still slipping through the net,” MacEwan said, “it’s unclear how much moderation investment Telegram can support on its current funding model. “
The business model was fully funded by Pavel Durov until 2018, before raising $1.7 billion from investors, hoping to launch its own cryptocurrency and become an alternative to Visa and MasterCard.
But the project fell through due to lack of regulatory approval in the United States, and the company repaid most of the funds.
Entirely free, Telegram started advertising last year, but with a reduced offer, highly regulated, and guaranteeing that it would not use users’ private data for targeting.
In April 2021, Russian business daily Vedomosti reported that the company was preparing to go public in 2023 and was targeting a valuation of between $30 billion and $50 billion.
“How much value Telegram could possibly achieve if it goes public depends heavily on its monetization strategy and Durov hasn’t been very clear about that yet,” Dans said.