The messaging app Telegram is battling an increase in violent extremism on its platform amid a surge in new users, the company acknowledged to CNN Wednesday.
In the last 24 hours, the company has shut down "dozens" of public forums that it said in a statement had posted "calls to violence for thousands of subscribers."
But the effort has turned into a game of cat and mouse, as many of the forum's users set up copycats just as soon as their old haunts were disabled. Screenshots and Telegram groups monitored by CNN show that a number of channels containing white supremacy, hate and other extremism have been shut down, but that at least some have been replaced by new channels. And at least one meta-channel has emerged that maintains lists of deactivated groups and that redirects visitors to the replacements. One now-defunct group that CNN reviewed had more than 10,000 members.
"Our moderators are reviewing an increased number of reports related to public posts with calls to violence, which are expressly forbidden by our Terms of Service," Telegram spokesperson Remi Vaughn told CNN. "In the past 24 hours we have blocked dozens of public channels that posted calls to violence for thousands of subscribers."
Vaughn added: "Telegram uses a consistent approach to protests and political debate across the globe, from Iran and Belarus to Thailand and Hong Kong. We welcome peaceful discussion and peaceful protests, but routinely remove publicly available content that contains direct calls to violence."
Telegram has surpassed half a billion active users worldwide. The company announced Tuesday that it had grown by 25 million users over the past several days -- with about 3 percent of that growth, or 750,000 new signups, occurring in the United States alone, Telegram told CNN.
Apps such as Telegram, Signal and MeWe have experienced explosive growth in recent days after WhatsApp sent a notification to its users reminding them that it shares user data with its parent, Facebook -- and following the suspension of President Donald Trump and the alternative social network Parler from many major tech platforms.
One of the people who has been reporting violent channels to Telegram is Gwen Snyder, a Philadelphia-based activist who said she has been monitoring far-right extremists on the platform since 2019. Earlier this week, as Telegram was witnessing a surge in new users, Snyder enacted a plan to organize mass pressure against Telegram’s content moderators.
“We started two days ago calling for Apple and Google to deplatform Telegram if they refused to enforce their terms of service,” Snyder told CNN. “We had dozens if not hundreds of relatively large-follower Twitter accounts amplifying the campaign.”
It’s difficult to determine whether Telegram’s actions may have been a direct result of the activism; Snyder said she never heard from Telegram or from Apple or Google, either.
But at least some of the Telegram channels affected by the crackdown appeared to believe that Snyder’s efforts were responsible — and soon began posting her personal information online and targeting her with death threats.
“That’s my home address,” Snyder said in a public tweet, attaching a redacted screenshot of an extremist Telegram channel that had shared her information. Addressing Telegram, she added: “You're okay with this? ENFORCE YOUR OWN TERMS OF SERVICE.”