Social media has become the vanguard for big tech's censorship of any journalism, science, or free speech which challenges the narratives cast by the governments and their mainstream media conduits through big tech's hegemony. Time and time again, although alternatives to platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, et al. have arisen, they've been condemned, if not entirely shutdown. In most instances, these crackdowns have typically been abstract and unfounded assertions that alternative social media platforms are "disseminating misinformation" or "being used by domestic terrorists" despite no tangible proof to substantiate those outrageous claims being uncovered. To date, Parler's removal from Amazon's web hosting services as well as the Google Play and Apple App stores has put been the most high profile instance of this big tech censorship. Now, Telegram takes center stage as the most recent target of this assault against free speech.
German government officials have recently called for the messaging app to be reclassified as a social media platform so that it can be subject to strict regulations set forth under the country's Network Enforcement Act. According to the German government the act which was signed into law in 2017 "aims to combat hate crime, criminal fake news and other criminal content on social media platforms more effectively." The act charted new territory by imposing legal compliance standards for social networks. Among the regulations enacted by the law is a statutory reporting requirement for providers of social networks. Companies and their individual employees tasked with adhering to that obligation are subject to fines if they fail to meet those rigid regulatory requirements. The law also requires social media platforms to delete content which the act deems is criminal.
As a messaging app, Telegram is not currently subject to those regulations. If it were up to Georg Maier, Interior Minister for the German State of Thuringia, that would change immediately. Maier has called for an immediate reclassification of Telegram as a social media platform. The German official has advantageously used the fatal shooting of a gas station employee in Idar-Oberstein, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, over a confrontation regarding the shooter's adherence to a mask mandate to advance his cause. Maier asserted the premise that the shooter having an active Telegram profile fostered his resentment of coronavirus policies which ultimately provoked him to commit the crime he is allegedly guilty of. German Federal Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht gave credence to Maier's calls for the reclassification of Telegram as a social media platform, stating that the app now functions in a manner where it qualifies under the bylaws set forth by the Network Enforcement Act. If Telegram was indeed reclassified in this manner, it would give the German government significant leverage in censoring critics of the global coronaviruses measures and any other dissent in the same manner that mainstream social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and others do.
Functionally, Telegram does provide its users with the ability to organize channels and group chats through which like-minded users can galvanize to communicate and share content beyond its messaging services. Many of these groups challenge the official coronavirus narrative as well as providing forums to dissent against government measures. These groups have been the target of mainstream media channels and lawmakers who have alleged that Telegram enables them to spread misinformation and organize illegal activity.
German officials previously singled out Telegram for the role it played in spreading misinformation ahead of its September 26th election. Alternative für Deutschland, a far-right nationalist party, has cultivated a prominent presence on Telegram which has laid at the core of the election-centered controversy opined by established political parties in Germany. Critics were quick to point of that the app has been used to coordinate more than 4,000 protests in Germany since June, 2020. There are approximately 1.5 million German-speaking Telegram users across Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The messaging app boasts over 500 million users worldwide and was one of the top ten most downloaded apps in both the Google and Apple app stores in 2020.
The controversy which has enveloped Telegram in Germany is nothing new for the app. Following the January 6 protest at the U.S. Capitol, law makers in the United States used the opportunity to paint Telegram as being a forum where far-right conspiracy theorists planned the actions that unfolded that day. Despite these claims, the FBI itself is on record as saying that they had found no evidence that of a coordinated effort behind the events that took place that day. While the case being made by Georg Maier is centered around even more specious logic by linking the shooting that took place in Idar-Oberstein, Germany's charge against alt tech platforms could serve as an archetype for the expansion of censorship across the globe.