Telegram Says It Shut Down “Hundreds Of Public Calls To Violence” From US Channels Last Week

Illustration for article titled Telegram Says It Shut Down Hundreds Of Public Calls To Violence From US Channels Last Week

Photo: YURI KADOBNOV / Contributor (Getty Images)

In the weeks since Trump-sympathizing rioters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol, platforms have scrambled to account for the ways right-wing zealots used their communication networks to strategize, coordinate or otherwise inflame tensions related to the deadly insurrection. Apparently, Telegram has been no exception: On Monday, the app’s CEO and founder, Pavel Durov, said that the platform shut down hundreds of public calls for violence” on US channels last week.

In a blog post published on Monday, Durov said that although US users represent less than 2% of Telegram’s base, the platform’s moderation team had receivedan increased number of reports about US-related public activity” in the days leading up to and after the attack on the Capitol. In response, he said, the team “acted decisively by clamping down on US channels that advocated violence.”

“Telegram welcomes peaceful debate and protest, but our Terms of Service explicitly prohibit distributing public calls to violence,” Durov wrote. “Сivil movements all over the world rely on Telegram in order to stand up for human rights without resorting to inflicting harm.”

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The attack on the Capitol has forced platforms with long histories of failures in moderating extremist content to finally confront the violent threats and discourse they have allowed to proliferate. On January 13, the walkie-talkie app Zello announced in a press release that it was with “deep sadness and anger” that its leadership team had discovered “evidence of Zello being misused by some individuals while storming the United States Capitol building last week.” And on January 10, Parler, the social platform that bills itself as a safe haven for free speech and radical discourse, was unceremoniously booted from its server, Amazon Web Services, after the platform repeatedly declined to enact stricter content moderation policies.

Although Durov acknowledged that Telegram had removed hundreds of public calls for violence on the grounds that they violated the platform’s terms of service, his blog post notably failed to mention how the app — which is literally built on encryption technology designed to protect communication from being viewed by unwanted eyes — would be vetted by content moderators in the future.

Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Illustration for article titled Insurrectionists Reportedly Used Walkie-Talkie App Zello To Storm the Capitol

Photo: Jon Cherry / Stringer (Getty Images)

Members of a violent and deadly mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 reportedly communicated with each other through the walkie-talkie app Zello — a company long criticized for its failure to moderate the far-right extremist content it sometimes hosts.

According to audio and chat logs reviewed by The Guardian, at least two individuals who stormed the Capitol used Zello to communicate with other militia members who appeared to be egging them on from offsite locations.

“We are in the main dome right now,” a female militia member can be heard saying at one point. “We are rocking it. They’re throwing grenades, they’re frickin’ shooting people with paintballs, but we’re in here.”

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“God bless and godspeed,” a male voice reportedly responds. “Keep going.”

“Jess, do your shit,” says another. “This is what we fucking lived up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

The exchange reportedly occurred in a public Zello channel called “STOP THE STEAL J6” around 2:44 p.m. The user in question appears to be Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old bartender from Ohio who recently told the Ohio Capital Journal that she had participated in the insurrection on behalf of both a local militia called the Ohio State Regular and the national Oath Keepers militia.

Zello, which claims to have 150 million users, said in a press release that it was with “deep sadness and anger” that its leadership team had discovered “evidence of Zello being misused by some individuals while storming the United States Capitol building last week.”

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In response to nearly 800 channels that were found to be hosting right-wing content, the app said that it had updated its terms of service and “extended the notion of abuse on the platform to include use by organizations whose principles or leaders specifically endorse or espouse violence.”

Zello also announced that it had deleted more than 2,000 channels associated with militias and other militarized social movements. In a chilling conclusion to its press release, the company said that it was “concerned that Zello could be misused by groups who have threatened to organize additional potentially violent protests and disrupt the U.S. Presidential Inauguration Festivities on January 20th.”

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As The Guardian points out, Zello likely has inherent broad appeal to militia groups, due to their frequent tendency to fetishize military-style radio communication and warlike modes of operation.