Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeWorldMiddle EastTelegram has blocked Hamas channels on Google, Apple stores

Telegram has blocked Hamas channels on Google, Apple stores

The Telegram app has restricted access to several channels linked to the Palestinian armed group Hamas.

The official Hamas account, the account of its armed wing the Qassam Brigades, and the Gaza Now news account are no longer available in the Telegram versions downloaded from Google Play or Apple App Store.

The Telegram accounts, which gained hundreds of thousands of new followers after Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, still can be accessed only in the online version of Telegram and in the app version downloaded directly from the Telegram website.

Telegram representatives have not publicly commented on the move. The restrictions came after the Zachor Legal Institute, a US lobby group campaigning against “anti-Israel movements”, wrote a letter to Apple last week pointing out that seven accounts linked to Hamas remain available on iOS despite being blocked for Android users.

Telegram and Apple both did not respond to a request for comment. However, Google said in a statement to the media that Google Play required apps containing user-generated content to moderate “egregious content, including content that advocates terrorist acts, incites violence, or chants terrorist attacks.”

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is considered a “terrorist” organisation in the US, Japan, Canada, EU, UK, Paraguay and Australia.

Hamas uses Telegram actively to promote its ideas. Through the app, violent videos and images of attacks on southern Israeli settlements are streamed in real time. Other armed groups such as ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda have also used Telegram, known for its restraint, to promote their ideology and claim responsibility for terrorist attacks. Layla Mashkoor, an associate editor at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told Al Jazeera:

“Telegram served a purpose to Hamas that day and every day since because it lacks moderation policies and these lax rules allow militant groups to upload graphic footage of the carnage they are participating in, and then that content will filter to other places on the internet like X.”

The official channels of the Qassam Brigades and Hamas gained almost half a million and 100,000 subscribers respectively after the 7 October attacks. The Gaza Now channel, which the Atlantic Council describes as “pro-Hamas,” saw its number of subscribers grow from 343,506 to nearly 1.9 million. Since the introduction of restrictions on the Google Play and App Store versions of Telegram, these channels have lost between 10,000 and 80,000 subscribers.

Layla Mashkoor claims, Hamas differs from other armed groups, such as ISIS, due to its status as a government. Although both may share violent content through channels such as Telegram. She said:

“The facts are the facts and they are officially a representative group for Gaza and that does demand that conversations around how we treat state leaders or officials come into consideration, but then of course the other element that needs to be considered [is] the graphic nature and the violence and how you balance that – which is a really difficult thing to determine.”

Telegram CEO Pavel Durov has said the platform provides valuable information about the war between Israel and Hamas and is less likely to spread malicious content than competitors because users must subscribe to channels. Durov said in a post on Telegram earlier this month, adding that moderators remove millions of pieces of harmful content every day:

“As such, it’s unlikely that Telegram channels can be used to significantly amplify propaganda. Instead, they serve as a unique source of first-hand information for researchers, journalists and fact-checkers. While it would be easy for us to destroy this source of information, doing so risks exacerbating an already dire situation.”

However, Hamas is preparing for a possible removal from Telegram and is asking its followers to install a special app.

Meta, Google and X, formerly Twitter, block all accounts with links to Hamas. Critics of Telegram have been calling on the company to remove Hamas accounts for weeks, claiming that the platform amplifies terrorist propaganda and is used to justify atrocious acts of violence.

Violation of Apple and Google’s app shop rules could result in the app being removed from mobile app shops controlled by both companies. Both Apple and Google have policies that prohibit apps that promote violence. If the app is removed from the Apple and Google app shops, it would make it impossible for new users to download the app and would also lead to a gradual disruption in the functionality of the service, as Telegram would lose the ability to send software updates to its 800 million monthly active users.

It should be noted that pro-Israeli accounts are also present on Telegram, including the Israel Defence Forces and South First Responders, which posted some of the horrifying videos that emerged after the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas militants that struck Israel and killed 1,400 people.

RELATED ARTICLES

Most Popular