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Sometimes maligned, Telegram becomes essential during Ukraine invasion
Ukrainian officials have leaned on the messaging app in recent weeks as a reliable way to disseminate information.
By Kevin Collier | 5 March 2022
NBC NEWS — As Russian forces shelled cities across Ukraine on Thursday, unidentified hackers took control of the website for the local government in the western province of Volyn, putting up a fake notice that government officials there had agreed to surrender.
The Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, had prepared for such a scenario. It had been warning for days on social media, especially on Telegram, its most-followed social media channel, that Russia would try such a tactic. It quickly alerted its nearly 800,000 followers that the surrender claim was a fake, and that Volyn was still in Ukrainian hands.
But SBU’s Telegram channel doesn’t just counter Russian propaganda. Taking advantage of the fact that Telegram, unlike Facebook and Twitter, is almost entirely unmoderated, it publishes plenty of its own. Its feed is full of videos of despondent, apologetic and sometimes bloodied Russians who are allegedly prisoners of war, which some experts have argued violates the Geneva Conventions.
In addition to politicians, the SBU is just one of the many official Ukrainian government channels to rely on Telegram in recent weeks as a way to disseminate information. The app’s popularity in the region and its flexibility — it’s both a messaging app and a way to broadcast messages to an audience — have made it a crucial tool amid an ongoing battle to win the public information war against Russia.
Telegram has been popular for years in Eastern Europe and Russia, and last year reached a landmark 1 billion downloads. Since its launch, Telegram has marketed itself as a bastion of free speech, a message that has resonated with users who live in countries with heavy online censorship, but it has also drawn extremist organizations ranging from the Islamic State terrorist group to Jan. 6 insurrectionists. […]