Update - 11/19/2015: Telegram updated its terms of service to include a means for removing illegal public content on November 18, 2015 and has since removed multiple ISIS channels from its platform.
As the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terror groups continue to seek out new platforms to broadcast their propaganda and connect with supporters, they have migrated to using Telegram, a chat and group application available for smartphones and desktop, as their primary medium for official propaganda.
Terror supporters continue to share and disseminate propaganda on Twitter, Facebook and other traditional social media platforms. However, the terms of service on those platforms reject users who actively encourage violent extremism and the platforms have been very active in removing content and users flagged for violations of those terms of service. Official terrorist accounts have therefore found them fully inhospitable, and even the accounts of terrorist supporters are regularly removed.
According to Telegram’s terms of service, however, “All Telegram chats and group chats are private territory of their respective participants and we do not process any requests related to them.” As such, the platform does not have effective policies prohibiting extremist speech. That environment has enabled official terrorist channels to use Telegram as the first point of dissemination for official ISIS propaganda and for Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), an Al Qaeda affiliated media organization.
Users can join groups on Telegram that function similarly to Twitter feeds, releasing a steady stream of content originated by the group’s owner. Among the groups currently operating on Telegram are more than 13 official ISIS accounts in multiple languages including Arabic, English, French and German, an official English-language account for the GIMF, and several unofficial pro-ISIS propaganda groups.
The English-language accounts created on Telegram include Khilafah News, a pro-ISIS account that boasts 2023 members; Nashir English, an official ISIS account, with 1352 members; and an official GIMF account with 1129 members.
Among the materials that have been released on Telegram are the second issue of a new English-language Al Qaeda magazine, Al Risalah, which calls on Westerners to join and fight on behalf of Al Qaeda.
The ISIS English-language Telegram account Nashir English also directs readers to find and download propaganda on a site on WordPress. Like Telegram, WordPress’s terms of service do not explicitly prohibit extremist propaganda, and so ISIS and other terrorist groups can exploit the website without fear of being taken down. The new WordPress site linked from the Telegram account features all of ISIS’s most recent propaganda releases as well as ‘major releases,’ ‘Top 10 Videos,’ and past issues of ISIS’s English-language magazine, Dabiq. The English site also links to equivalent WordPress sites in German, Bosnian and Arabic. Additional links from the English site to equivalent sites in other languages on Blogspot, which is hosted by Google, were removed after ADL notified Google of their presence.
The WordPress site emphasizes ISIS’s ongoing presence on Twitter and lists Twitter hashtags that correspond with official ISIS propaganda material.
In addition to maintaining groups on Telegram, terror organizations are also able to engage in chats with supporters and potential recruits. The encouragement of active participation by supporters engages the supporters in dialogue with hardened extremists, furthering the supporters’ radicalization processes.