SHARE
COPY LINK

TECH

Germany considers ban on Telegram due to fears over conspiracy theorists

The German government is considering a ban on encrypted messaging app Telegram after it was repeatedly used as a channel for spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories and even death threats.

The Telegram app on a smartphone.
The Telegram app on a smartphone. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

The app has also played a key role in mobilising turnout at some of the most violent protests in opposition to the German government’s Covid-19 policies since the start of the pandemic.

With parliament due to begin debating compulsory vaccination on Wednesday, authorities fear that the controversial issue could risk firing up another wave of rage.

With this in mind, politicians have set their sights on tighter controls on Telegram.

Interior Minister Nancy Faeser will unveil plans by Easter to require the app to delete messages that contain death threats or hate speech and identify their authors.

If Telegram fails to comply, the government could even ban the service completely.

“We will ensure that those spreading hate are identified and held accountable,” Faeser told the Bundestag lower house of parliament in mid-January.

She also told Die Zeit newspaper that Telegram could be deactivated in Germany if it failed to comply with local laws and “all other options have failed”.

Telegram chat groups, which can include up to 200,000 members, have been used by some anti-vaccine protesters to share false information and to encourage violence against politicians.

In December, German police seized weapons during raids in the eastern city of Dresden after a Telegram group was used to share death threats against a regional leader.

The same month, Telegram was used to mobilise a group of coronavirus-sceptics to mass outside the house of Petra Koepping, the health minister of Saxony state, armed with flaming torches.

A message viewed by 25,000 people had called for people opposing Covid restrictions to share private addresses of German “local MPs, politicians and other personalities” who they believed were “seeking to destroy” them through pandemic curbs.

New avenues

At the height of a refugee crisis that erupted in 2015, online social networking tools Facebook and Twitter fell foul of the authorities as they were seized by the far-right to spread virulent anti-immigrant content.

In 2017, Germany passed a controversial law that requires the social network giants to remove illegal content and report it to the police.

Facebook said in September it had deleted accounts, pages and groups linked to the “Querdenker” (Lateral Thinkers), a movement that has emerged as the loudest voice against the German government’s coronavirus curbs.

But that pushed opposing voices to other platforms, with Telegram emerging as the app of choice.

“Since the big platforms like Facebook no longer allow racist, anti-Semitic hate and far-right content like Holocaust denial, people who want to spread this are looking for new avenues,” Simone Rafael, digital manager for the Amadeu Antonio anti-racism foundation, told AFP.

“Currently, the most popular one in Germany is Telegram,” Rafael said.

While Facebook has an interest in maintaining a presence in Germany and has gradually submitted to national legislation, this is not the case with
Telegram, the expert said.

“Telegram is not cooperating with the judicial or security authorities, even on indisputably punishable and reprehensible matters such as child pornography,” a behaviour that “deprives the state of any capacity for action”, Rafael said.

With Telegram not budging, German federal police are even planning to start flooding the company with requests for content deletion to push it into action, reported Die Welt daily.

 ‘Very bad signal’

One option for the government could be to require Google or Apple to remove Telegram from their app stores. However, this would not affect users who have already downloaded the app.

For Rafael, the only solution is to ban the app completely.

That would make Germany the first Western country to outlaw Telegram, created in 2013 by Russian brothers Nikolai and Pavel Durov, two opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin who sought to avoid surveillance by their country’s secret services.

The company is currently headquartered in Dubai, with its parent group in British Virgin Islands.

Telegram is already banned or heavily regulated in China, India and Russia.

But a move against the app could also spark further dissent in Germany.

Such a drastic step would “send a very bad signal”, according to digital journalist Markus Reuter.

“On the one hand we are celebrating Telegram’s lack of censorship and its importance for democratic movements in Belarus and Iran, and on the other, we are then disabling the service here” in Germany, he said.

By David COURBET

Member comments

  1. Well if China does it. It must be ok then. Should we open up some “re education ” camps too?
    Peoples Republik of Germany is really coming along at pace.
    I can feel the boots off freedom stamping on my face.

  2. How ironic, an app created to avoid totalitarian censorship in Russia ends up censored in the so-called free western state of Germany.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TECH

What steps is Germany taking to improve internet speed?

Germany is known for being behind when it comes to internet speed, coverage and embracing digital changes. But the German government is trying to change that. Here's a look at what's going on.

What steps is Germany taking to improve internet speed?

Anyone who’s been in Germany will probably have faced issues with their wifi, whether it’s a slow connection or lack of it. 

The country is also known for being slow on the uptake of moving paperwork to a digital format, with some services even requiring a fax machine at times.

And for years, people have been dreaming of being able to have an electronic patient file that would bundle all medical results and make it easy to pass them on to doctors with just one click.

Germany’s digital strategy, put forward by the coalition government of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) aims to address these things. 

It was set to be discussed in the Bundestag on Thursday – but does it go far enough?

What do the plans say?

By 2025, at least half of all households in Germany should have a fiber-optic connection, and by 2026, there should be interference-free smartphone coverage throughout the country, under the plans. 

This is not new – the expansion has been going on for some time and is part of the gigabit strategy, which is also being discussed in the Bundestag.

It involves things like new laying techniques, which would make it possible to expand much faster, Maik Außendorf, head of the Green party’s Digital Affairs told German broadcaster, Tagesschau. By 2030, the entire country should have fibre-optic lines.

READ MORE: How Germany is facing up to its slow internet problem

Nadine Schön, digital policy spokesperson for the opposition CDU/CSU, says that Germany needs to become a less paperwork-orientated country. 

“The Finns are the happiest people in Europe, and when you ask them why, they say – ‘the state relieves us of all the paperwork’,” she told the Tagesschau. “They can do their tax returns on their mobile phones in eight minutes; they can do everything digitally.”

The digital strategy portrays a convenient, new world that many people in Germany have been craving for a long time. For instance, thanks to digital identity setups, people could authenticate themselves at a public authority from home. They could then apply for a new registration (Anmeldung) after moving, or get a new resident’s parking permit from their couch.

Companies and startups would receive better support to simplify the often time-consuming processes with government agencies.

But both Schön (CDU/CSU) and Außendorf (Greens), who sit on the Digital Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, are not yet satisfied with the strategy.

The conservatives are introducing their own motion to the debate, and are pressing for even better business support for the digital transformation. 

Außendorf, on the other hand, is concerned that there is still no defined digital budget, even though this is stipulated in the coalition agreement.

In his view, this is a key point for advancing important IT projects in a targeted manner.

Sustainability is also an important factor to Außendorf when it comes to the digital strategy. He is keen on unconventional ideas, citing the example of a greenhouse on the roof of a data centre in North Friesland that uses the waste heat from a server farm.

“Data centres consume an enormous amount of energy, and a large part of it goes into the environment as waste heat,” he says. “This waste heat can be used in a variety of ways, for example by coupling it to local and district heating networks or for heating greenhouses.”

SHOW COMMENTS