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ISIS group members with their flag. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Driven from Twitter by tougher anti-terror regulations, Islamic State and its followers have increasingly turned to private messaging app Telegram.

And Western nations have more than taken notice.


With millions of IS loyalists communicating with one another on Telegram and spreading their message of radical Islam and extremism, France and Germany last week said that they want a continent wide effort to allow for a crackdown on Telegram.

“Encrypted communications among terrorists constitute a challenge during investigations,” France and Germany said in a statement. “Solutions must be found to enable effective investigation… while at the same time protecting the digital privacy of citizens by ensuring the availability of strong encryption.”

French and German officials said they will soon bring the issue up to EU leaders after IS extremists reportedly used Telegram to plan recent attacks.

In recent days, after Twitter said it shut down more than 300,000 accounts suspected of spreading extremism ideology, IS followers have become more virulent on Telegram, analysts say.

On private Telegram channels, IS followers have laid out detailed plans to poison Westerners and conduct bombing attacks, reports say.

Telegram, which has over 100 million users, says it does not allow extremism-related activities on its public access channels but does not monitor private chat which is designed to be encrypted and secret.

“Telegram is the best available option [for IS] as tracking down users and groups on it could be very hard,” said Mohammed Reza Jamshid, a computer security analyst in Iran.

Before Twitter had shut down accounts that promoted terrorism, it had become an easy platform for IS followers and fighters to exchange information publicly and recruit new members.

A recent Rand Corporation study of 23 million tweets in Arabic and found that IS supporters averaged 50 percent more tweets than opponents on a typical day.

“Migrating from Twitter was the only option for IS bloggers as they are squeezed from all sides,” said analyst Jamshid said.

IS began using Telegram to disseminate its propaganda in September 2015, shortly after Telegram announced a new feature called “Channels” that helps users connect anonymously.

“The Telegram app is completely encrypted, which means no fear of someone monitoring your correspondence and understanding what it means,” said Alon Arvatz, co-founder and vice president of Insights, an information technology company. “That’s why IS moved from traditional social media to Telegram over the last year.”

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“Encrypted communications among terrorists constitute a challenge for security agents,” said Michael S. Smith, a U.S-based counterterrorism analyst. “It can be much more difficult for authorities to track Islamic State activities on Telegram than Twitter.”

“In addition, Islamic State propagandists can use Telegram to push out much lengthier micro blog posts than on Twitter, as well as to distribute propaganda without relying on other sites to host it,” he said

But for IS, Telegram has some downsides since it was easier for the militant group to recruit followers using social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

“IS recruiters and propagandists are all aware of this fact, so they heavily emphasize that [its] Telegram supporters should be creating new accounts on Twitter,” said J.M. Berger, a fellow at George Washington University’s program on extremism.

Steve Stalinsky, an expert on Middle East terrorist activities on the internet, said “There is a lot of cross-pollination — groups and individuals operate and disseminate the same content on both Twitter and Telegram.”

“These accounts constantly refer and link users to the ones on other platforms,” he added.
(VOA)


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