Telegram reveals huge growth in users and announces premium tier as it continues to attract extremists

Telegram reveals huge growth in users and announces premium tier as it continues to attract extremists

Telegram, the social media app favoured by conspiracy theorists and the far right, has revealed a large increase in its user figures for 2022. The company made the announcement as it also unveiled plans to monetise the app in order to ensure its “continued development” into the future. It comes as activists and researchers continue to scrutinise the company and its place in the far-right ecosphere. 

Millions of users

In a press release it published on 21 June, Telegram disclosed that it now has 700 million monthly users on its platform. This represents an increase of 200 million users compared to 2021. And according to Telegram this now means it’s one of the top-five most-downloaded apps on the planet.

At the same time the company announced that it’s launching Telegram Premium. Subscribers will receive extra features not available to unsubscribed users, such as the ability to send larger files, faster download speeds, and being able to follow 1,000 channels compared to 500 for free users. Telegram also said the subscription service “will help improve and expand the app for decades to come, while Telegram will remain free, independent and uphold its users-first values”. Going on, the company argued that by relying on income from users instead of advertisers it means “our users will always remain our main priority”. 

Russian man Pavel Durov founded Telegram in 2014 with his brother Nikolai. Known as the “Mark Zuckerberg of Russia”, Durov also founded the social networking website Vkontakte (VK) in 2006. He was fired from his position as CEO in 2014 after him and his company clashed with Vladimir Putin’s regime. According to Reuters anti-Putin activists used the website to organise and at the time of Durov’s dismissal the social network had 240 million users. Durov eventually moved to Dubai in 2017 due to intimidation from Russian authorities and Telegram is now based there too. As of 2021 the company is worth $30bn.

Freedom for extremism

Although Durov has pledged to protect Ukrainian users of his app and their data, pro-Russian actors, conspiracy theorists, and far-right extremists continue to flock to it. This is in spite of claims he made in 2019 in which he tweeted that Telegram supports “free speech and peaceful protest, but terrorist propaganda has no place on our platform”. 

A recent report from the Global Network on Extremism & Technology (GNET) noted that, alongside Meta (Facebook), Telegram continues to be the go-to app for extremists. GNET wrote that “extremist actors are unlikely to abandon big players such as Meta or Telegram anytime soon”. The report also points out that even though Telegram positions itself as an anti-censorship platform, “regulatory pressures” can on occasion be used to make it “comply with content moderation requests”.

The Beacon has long documented the far-right’s use of Telegram to spread conspiracy theories as well as target activists and public figures. Two recent reports showed that pro-Russian conspiracies about its invasion of Ukraine continue to be popular in Irish far-right and COVID-denial groups. And at least one channel is sharing content from a website with direct links to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB. 

Featured image via Flickr – Ivan Radic

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