Jihadists Presence Online Decentralizes After Telegram Ban
By Flashpoint Analyst Team
Chat services platforms have long been an outpost for extremist propaganda distribution and recruitment efforts. Groups take advantage of the anonymity and privacy features on some of these platforms to spread their message or bring new members into the fold.
Last November, Telegram and others took action, removing tens of thousands of jihadist channels, groups, and bots in the largest purge in the company’s history.
The operation was part of the 16th Referral Action Day led by the European Union Internet Referral Unit, during which social media and communication companies targeted jihadist accounts and propaganda on their platforms for removal and deletion.
According to a Europol statement, “Telegram was the online service provider receiving most of the referral requests during this Action Day. As a result, a significant portion of key actors within the IS network on Telegram was pushed away from the platform… Telegram has also put forth considerable effort to root out the abusers of the platform by both bolstering its technical capacity in countering malicious content and by establishing a close partnership with Europol.”
Analogous to other illicit groups active in the deep and dark web, Telegram has been the primary communication and propaganda platform for jihadists over the past several years. As such, the company’s aggressive and sustained targeting of jihadists on the platform has disrupted and transformed the online jihadist landscape.
As with other similar bans and takedowns by law enforcement of large botnets and DDoS operations, Jihadists operating on Telegram were quick to attempt to re-establish activity elsewhere. Since the November culling by Telegram administrators, Flashpoint analysts have observed jihadists experimenting with and establishing accounts on the following platforms:
• Blockchain Messenger (BCM)
Their dispersal to these dozen-plus platforms has further decentralized jihadist propaganda dissimenation and increased its exposure. While some of these platforms have since removed jihadist accounts, below, it remains to be seen if every utilized platform will take action against these actors, and how aggressive and sustained these actions will be.
Though Telegram was useful for accessing and disseminating propaganda, many jihadists long complained that it was an echo-chamber, where jihadists congregated with like-minded individuals, thus not an effective platform for broader distribution.
Despite the fact the situation remains dynamic, this decentralization has made targeting jihadist propaganda and authenticating claims of responsibility more challenging.