Germany targets Telegram in its fight against extremists
The German government has stated its intention to get tough with the social media service Telegram. The app has courted controversy in Germany recently, due to its reputation for attracting extremists and conspiracy theorists.
German government to get tough on Telegram
The German government has recently made it clear that it will impose fines and sanctions on the social messaging app Telegram if it continues to ignore the authorities’ requests. Telegram has become notorious for being a safe haven for political extremists and conspiracy theorists, something which has been recently highlighted in Germany by the app being used to help organise far-right demonstrations and protests.
In 2017, the Network Enforcement Act (NetzDG) was passed in Germany. This law set certain regulations for social media services, such as them being obligated to take down illegal content and allowing users to easily flag harmful material. In April 2021, the federal government sent two letters to the social media company, demanding that Telegram appoints a contact person in Germany and make it easier for users to report illicit content. More recently, the German police sent multiple requests to Telegram, to try and get them to comply with the NetzDG regulations. Telegram has yet to respond to these requests.
Now, politicians in Berlin have made it clear that they plan to get tough with Telegram, and could charge the company up to 55 million euros. “Telegram, like everybody else, has to adhere to our laws,” said Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann. Interior Minister Nancy Faeser previously suggested completely banning the app in Germany, if it continued to fail to comply with the country’s laws. Faeser is now set to reveal plans to force the app to delete hate speech and identify users who spread it. “We will ensure that those spreading hate are identified and held accountable,” she said.
Experts against idea of banning Telegram
Technology experts have warned that banning Telegram would be difficult, both technically and constitutionally. “On the one hand we are celebrating Telegram’s lack of censorship and its importance for democratic movements in Belarus and Iran, and on the other, we are then disabling the service here,” said digital journalist Markus Reuter.
Ann Cathrin Riedel, chair of the Association for Liberal Internet Policy, has argued that regulating Telegram will not eliminate the root of hate speech. "You don't solve problems from the analogue world by regulating the digital sphere," she said. "Radical thoughts do not disappear when you block a messenger service - people just move on to another platform."
A hotbed for radicalisation, extremism and conspiracy
Telgram was established in 2013 by two Russian entrepreneurs, Pavel and Nikolai Durov. It was founded on the idea of allowing communication that could not be monitored by governments, or any other external parties. This made it a perfect platform for extremists and conspiracy theorists to communicate, especially since larger social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have blocked or removed such users from using their services.
In Germany, Telegram has been linked to a number of violent incidents and extremism. In August 2020, protestors stormed the Reichstag building after rumours that authorities had broken constitutional law spread on the app. In 2021, a journalist was pulled from his bike during a protest and beaten after his picture was shared between users. Perhaps the most infamous use of the app was in organising protests against Germany’s coronavirus restrictions and as a home for the Querdenker (Lateral Thinkers) movement.