Germany wants EU-wide crusade against Telegram
Germany’s minister of justice has spoken in favor of common European action against Telegram over the spread of extremist content on the instant-messaging service.
Speaking to German media, Marco Buschmann argued that a concerted EU-wide effort would “make a bigger impression” on Telegram, as opposed to “each country trying to do that on its own.” The minister, who was sworn in earlier this month, went on to say that it was in Telegram’s own best interest to have uninterrupted access to the European market now that the service has turned to ads in a bid to monetize the platform’s popularity.
Buschmann, however, warned that even if the EU succeeded in bringing Telegram to heel, that alone would not end the problem of hate speech and extremism online, as “radicals will find new ways and platforms.”
The debate over Telegram intensified in Germany earlier this month after several radical anti-vaxxers had been arrested in the city of Dresden over allegedly plotting on the platform to kill the governor of the state of Saxony. Following the police raids, calls were made to start considering Telegram not as a mere messaging service, but rather a social media network, which would oblige the service to abide by stricter rules regarding content deemed extremist or criminal.
Starting from February 2022, social media platforms will be required by German law to report unlawful content to authorities. However, instant-messaging services are exempt, which many regional interior ministers in Germany see as a loophole that should be addressed.
The push has been backed by Minister of Justice Buschmann, who argued that there could be no place for a “blanket exemption for messengers.” He went on to say that the creation of a common European approach would be one of the biggest “political challenges” faced by the EU.
So far, all known attempts to communicate with Telegram on the part of German officials have fallen on deaf ears. The country’s new minister of the interior, Nancy Faeser, warned that the government in Berlin is “not going to put up with it.”
Governors and regional interior ministers in Germany have been even more blunt regarding what they think of Telegram. Saxony state Governor Michael Kretschmer, whom the anti-vaxxers had allegedly been planning to kill, charged that “it can no longer be that the operators watch on from Dubai without doing anything as death threats are being spread on their network.” The interior minister in the same region lamented recently that “this anonymity is fueling radicalization on the internet.”
These concerns were echoed by the minister of the interior in the state of Thuringia, who described Telegram as a “combustive agent for radicalization, in particular anti-lockdown protests.” He warned that the “danger is very real that hatred online will lead to violence.”
So far, it is not clear what exactly German authorities can do to rein in the disobedient message system.
Telegram’s founder, Pavel Durov, made it the messenger’s policy not to cooperate with authorities in any country. Back in 2017, he refused to grant Russian security services access to communications between terror suspects. Russian authorities eventually banned the service the following year. However, the ban proved hard to enforce effectively and was lifted in June 2020.