The official Telegram channels of Hamas and the al-Qassam Brigades became inaccessible for Telegram users who downloaded the app through the Google Play Store on Sunday night.
Telegram responded to the block on Sunday night, saying “Some of the channels you are following may stop being accessible in your version of Telegram because of Google Play’s guidelines.”
The app added that the channel can be accessed on other platforms or by downloading the Telegram for Android app directly from Telegram’s website.
Telegram has served as one of the central platforms for Hamas, its supporters, and other Palestinian terrorist groups to publish statements and propaganda, especially since the October 7 massacre.
Telegram says keeping Hamas channels up can ‘save lives’
Two weeks ago, Pavel Durov, the CEO of Telegram, published a statement defending his company’s decision not to remove war-related content from their platform, saying “tackling war-related coverage is seldom obvious.”
Durov referred to a threat by Hamas to bombard Ashkelon, saying that this served as a warning for civilians. “Would shutting down their channel help save lives — or would it endanger more lives?” wrote Durov in a post on his Telegram channel.
“It’s always tempting to act on emotional impulses. But such complex situations require thorough consideration that should also take into account the differences between social platforms.”
Durov added that he believes that Telegram channels do not “significantly amplify propaganda” as users only see content which they specifically subscribe to. The Telegram CEO additionally stated that Telegram channels “serve as a unique source of first-hand information for researchers, journalists, and fact-checkers.”
“While it would be easy for us to destroy this source of information, doing so risks exacerbating an already dire situation.”
A few days after the war began, Durov noted that “hundreds of thousands” of new users from Israel and the Palestinian territories had joined Telegram since the war broke out.
The Global Network on Extremism and Technology (GNET) noted on Sunday that Hamas’ Telegram channel sent 1,145 messages on October 7 alone. GNET added that Telegram channels affiliated with terrorist groups and channels run by anonymous individuals have growing audiences as audiences shift away from traditional sources of responsible journalism.
GNET stressed that “Durov’s assertions that Telegram channels are unlikely to ‘significantly amplify propaganda,’ overlook their considerable impact as primary sources of news for innumerable ordinary civilians—a fact even acknowledged by Durov himself.”
“Misinformation and propaganda, particularly in the current conflict, are rampantly spread throughout social media. This has become a matter of global attention, with the European Union notably emphasizing the urgency of addressing this issue. Telegram, is no exception to this trend.”
GNET is an academic research initiative led by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), a globally renowned academic research center based within the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.