Social messaging platform Telegram has blocked channels used by Hamas, but only on Android phones due to violations of Google’s app store guidelines. According to CNBC, two channels — hamas_com and al-Qassam brigades — were cut off for Android users, though other channels the group uses, like Gaza Now, are still accessible.
Telegram blamed the blocks on Google’s app store guidelines, according to reporting in The Jerusalem Post. Users reportedly see an error saying the channels can’t be viewed on “Telegram apps downloaded from the Google Play Store,” implying that the ban doesn’t extend to the app when it’s downloaded from elsewhere or used on another operating system.
A Google spokesperson, who asked to be quoted anonymously due to the sensitive subject matter, confirmed that the Post’s story was correct. They referred The Verge to Google’s policy banning violent content “related to terrorism” inside of apps.
Both Meta and X (formerly Twitter) have said they’ve taken action to block Hamas-linked accounts and limit the spread of misinformation about the war on their platforms. But Telegram usually has a light touch when it comes to moderation and has opposed removing channels unless its hand is forced. The Verge has reached out to both Telegram and Google about the blocked channels.
Telegram CEO Pavel Durov wrote that he was hesitant to shut down Hamas-used channels in a post on October 13th, saying that “tackling war-related coverage is seldom obvious” and writing that Hamas had used Telegram a few days prior to warn civilians to evacuate an area before they attacked it.
But Hamas also uses Telegram to spread videos of its attacks, according to Human Rights Watch, and as CNBC points out in its report today, one of the channels Telegram has blocked is used by Hamas’ military wing.
Telegram is popular for its lax moderation and encryption. CNN reported last week that the al-Qassam brigades channel’s followers tripled after its attack on Israel. The report adds that many of those followers may not support Hamas but that the channel’s growth increases the odds of the group’s messages spreading beyond Telegram itself. A former Meta moderation leader told CNN that Hamas’ approach on Telegram is “really the model we saw with ISIS.”
With the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) in force, governments in the bloc have enforcement power over most social media companies’ content moderation. That’s visible in the EU’s dealings with Meta and X, which both received letters from EU Commissioner Thierry Breton demanding they step up their moderation amid the war.
Telegram isn’t listed as a “very large online platform” under the DSA, but governments in the region have successfully pressured the platform to take action. In February 2022, Telegram blocked more than 60 channels in Germany when the government threatened to block it nationwide over covid misinformation. It also banned Russian state media the same year after EU pressure related to the invasion of Ukraine.
Update October 25th, 2023, 3:39PM ET: Updated to add that Google confirmed that Telegram blocked the channels due to Google Play Store guidelines.