If you hadn’t heard of Telegram till 2021 then you wouldn’t be alone. This relatively unknown messaging and social media platform has risen from relative anonymity to become one of the biggest players in the ‘secret messaging’ business in less than a year. When What’s App changed its terms of usage in early 2021 and informed users that their data would be shared with their new parent Facebook, many ‘jumped ship’ in search of a less intrusive messaging option. But it was Facebook’s six-hour outage in early October that really made Telegram an enticing option. On that same day, Telegram gained a record 70 million users.
According to Statista, Telegram is now the 10th most popular social media platform worldwide, coming in ahead of Snapchat, Pinterest, and even Twitter! So, as Telegram’s popularity continues to grow, it’s highly likely that your kids will be soon giving it a try if they haven’t already! So, how does it work? Is it safe? And, should you intervene. Here’s what you need to know…
Although many of us first heard about Telegram this year, it has in fact been around since 2013. Founded by Russian brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, Telegram was founded as part of their efforts to offer a forum for free speech online after their first social networking site, known as VK, was taken over by the Russian Government.
Widely considered to be a Russian ‘Mark Zuckerberg’, VK made Pavel a billionaire. Pavel claims he was pushed out for refusing to provide VK data to the Russian government and shut down anti-corruption advocates. He has since cut ties with VK and moved to Germany. Telegram was last reported to be located in Dubai.
How Does It Work?
All you need is the Telegram app and a mobile phone number to start your Telegram account and yes, it works across both the Apple and Android platforms. Although it was started primarily as a messaging app, it has evolved into a social network that can be used to build groups around common interests. Both public and private groups can be set up as well as channels. It is also possible to search for people located close to you. And if you love stickers then you’ll love Telegram. Many consider it to have the best range of any messaging app!
Is It Safe?
Right from the start, Telegram has positioned itself as an app committed to private and secure messaging. However, the fact that end-to-end encryption is not automatically used on messages sent in Telegram means it is not as ‘secure’ as privacy focussed messaging platforms such as Signal which offer end-to-end encryption for all communication.
It is important to note that Telegram users can choose for their chats to be ‘secret’ which means they will be end-to-end encrypted, meaning that only the sender and receiver can read the message – but you must opt in to have the additional level of privacy. But group chats, one of the app’s most popular features, cannot be end-to-end encrypted.
How Does Telegram Deal With Controversial Content?
One of the biggest issues with Telegram is the content shared in the app and the company’s “hands-off” approach to moderation. Telegram’s a truly unique combination of messaging and social media plus its publicly relaxed content moderation strategy means it attracts a certain style of the user who may have been outed from more mainstream online platforms.
A quick Google will produce multiple examples of how Telegram has been widely used by fringe political groups. Security experts have acknowledged that Telegram is in fact ‘the app of choice’ for terrorist organizations. Neo-nazi groups have reportedly used Telegram as a recruiting platform and the far-right QAnon has reportedly set up a home on Telegram after messaging app Parler was suspended earlier this year.
Now, of course, this sounds completely horrid and makes Telegram seem very unattractive. But I can assure you that my Telegram user experience has been quite bland. I have been using the app on and off for several months now and I’ve never been exposed to political or fringe content but I also haven’t gone looking for it. For me, it has been yet another way of connecting with people in my life with a couple of great stickers to assist!
Should My Kids Use It?
In my opinion, Telegram is an app best suited for a robust adult mind. According to the terms and conditions, Telegram users need to be 16+ to join up however as worldly parents, we all know those age restrictions are not a deterrent for many young people!
While my experience has been no different from using other messaging apps like WhatsApp, I believe Telegram is not an appropriate app for an under 18 as there are too many risks:
- Pornographic and violent sexual content is available on Telegram if you chose to seek it out
- The ‘find people nearby’ feature allows users to be targeted with inappropriate material if settings haven’t been adjusted
- The ‘group nearby’ feature allows users to view groups without joining. There is a risk these groups may contain violent or harmful material.
- The lack of content moderation means users could be exposed to fringe political material which may be traumatic and hard to process.
Now, of course, it is possible to adjust settings to minimize the risks when using the app. If location services are turned off and profiles are not marked visible, then finding ‘random’ groups and people via location will not be an option. And if the default privacy settings are adjusted so that your child can only be contacted by ‘my contacts’ as opposed to ‘everybody’ then this will minimize the risk of receiving communication from people they don’t know.
So, if you or your kids are looking for a top-notch end-to-end encrypted messaging app then there are definitely better options around, such as Signal. And let’s not forget about WhatsApp which offers end-to-end encrypted messaging on everything sent in the app. Yes, your information will be shared with Facebook but only if you are messaging a business on the app, according to the company. Messages and calls between parties are still protected by end-to-end encryption. So many choices, so many messages to send!