Election Misinformation Continues To Thrive On Telegram

Published on January 26, 2021

Telegram, the encrypted messaging app similar to WhatsApp and Signal, has become a popular gathering place for QAnon influencers and loyalists in the days following mass suspensions from other apps like Twitter and Facebook. Some QAnon and election misinformation group chats have gained tens of thousands of followers in recent days, with many acting as alternative news sources for far-right misinformation.

A quick search for “QAnon” on Telegram brings up dozens of results for group chats related to the viral conspiracy theory. In many cases, far-right influencers that had cultivated massive followings on apps like Twitter are now using Telegram for the same purpose. Twitter, which suspended hundreds of thousands of accounts related to the QAnon conspiracy theory earlier this month, is frequently accused of protecting the cabal of pedophiles that QAnon believes has infiltrated Hollywood and the Democratic Party. On Telegram, this is a big discussion prompt.

In recognizing the threat of extremism that conspiracy theories like QAnon carry, many tech companies have opted to ban the subject altogether in exercising the rights they were granted in the Good Samaritan Clause of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The clause grants additional protections for internet companies to enable them to set their own terms of service and moderate the content on their internet platforms.

Internet companies are not beholden to the freedoms granted in the First Amendment, and instead are granted freedom of speech through Section 230, which states that companies that do not act as publishers cannot be held legally responsible for the content published on their platforms, as long as it’s not illegal. The Good Samaritan Clause further allows the companies to moderate content without fear of being held liable for censorship, allowing them to block and screen for offensive material. Since QAnon often teeters the line between digital and IRL extremism, companies like Twitter, Facebook and TikTok have banned the topic in its entirety.

Telegram’s terms of service agreement is short and sweet, and requires that users do not use the service to scam people, promote violence, or post pornographic material on the platform. The company does not currently have a policy on misinformation, though it appears to be spreading like wildfire in the dozens of conspiracy theory group chats that have popped up in recent weeks.

Many right-wing influencer channels are using the platform to discuss theories that President Biden is not actually the President, and was instead sworn in on a film set while Donald Trump prepares to take back the U.S. Presidency in March with support from the U.S. military. “Yep – stay with it anons,” instructs one influencer to his over 45,000 subscribers on Telegram. “That drop was the biggest drop ever provided for a reason. News will unlock and the future will prove past,” the text reads, captioning a link from a Q claim that Trump will use his newly formed Office of the Former President to incite a military coup.

Dozens of posts in Telegram channels instruct “anons” to “hold the line” and assure followers that “you’re gonna love how this movie ends,” which is a common QAnon reference to the entertainment of watching the commencement of “the storm.” The “storm” refers to the belief that a storm of mass arrests are imminent, though particular prediction dates for the commencement of the storm change almost weekly. Right now, Q influencers believe that the storm will come in March.

Donald Trump Jr., the former President’s son, is among the many right-wing influencers that are using the app to pedal misinformation, including claims that the January 6th insurrection was an act of violence from left-wing activist groups and not Trump supporters. Trump Jr.’s Telegram account, which has over 850,000 subscribers, is a verified Telegram channel.

Telegram did not immediately respond to Grit Daily’s request for comment.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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