In the past few days, German politicians have declared messaging app Telegram a threat to democracy and a hotbed of radicalization. The latest round of attacks on free communication comes after weeks of protests in Germany against the COVID-19 measures. Protests have been mobilized via Telegram and other online community platforms.
Since the beginning of December, the debate about the Telegram app has raged across the German media. Concurrent to the protests news stories – such as from the Tagesschau and Deutsche Welle – framed the platform as a hub for dangerous conspiracies, vaccine misinformation, and the driving force behind the “violent” protests.
This week, the interior minister of Thüringen, George Mair (Social Democrats), endorsed the idea of penalizing Telegram if they fail to remove “harmful” content. He even suggested geoblocking, which would disable the service from certain regions based on IP protocol.
Roland Wöller (Christian Democrat) said he expects more “radicalization” on Telegram if mandatory vaccination plans come into place in Germany. He advised punishing the company behind the app if criminal acts can be traced back to the service.
Officials are also calling for the deanonymization of users on the platform. In case German police open a criminal investigation, real names of the users should be delivered to authorities, Mr. Wöller suggested.
Telegram has also received sharp criticism from the Interior Minister of the new German government, Nancy Faeser, as she the declared fighting “right-wing extremism” as her top priority. She called for strict measures to combat online “hate speech and aggression” and aims to further investigate Telegram.
Finally, Marco Buschmann, member of the German Bundestag, said:
“… what is happening on Telegram, is not only disgusting and inappropriate, but also, in most cases, criminal. The law is clear on this. We have to think about all the possibilities… my wish is not to have a German way … but a European framework, which will allow us to fight against this hate.”
Was auf #Telegram in Umlauf gebracht wird, ist teils unanständig und oft auch kriminell. Mein Wunsch ist, dass wir keinen deutschen Sonderweg einschlagen, sondern einen gemeinsamen europäischen Rechtsrahmen schaffen, der es uns ermöglicht, gegen Hass und Hetze im Netz vorzugehen. pic.twitter.com/MAAb3QrwdB
— Marco Buschmann (@MarcoBuschmann) December 14, 2021
While, German journalists are framing the platform as a radicalization hub and danger to democracy, Telegram has become a powerful counter-force against the state COVID-19 narrative.
Currently, the App is excluded from the German “Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz” law, which requires from social media platforms to delete “criminal” content and report to the Federal Criminal Police Agency.
The latest moves follow previous rounds of German media campaigns against Telegram. In September 2021, The National Pulse reported on another large scale backlash involving the platform.
Telegram has played a massive role in organizing anti-COVID protests across Europe and has been used as a crowd-sourcing platform for challenging the establishment narrative during the pandemic. Over the past few years, the app has gained massive traction in Germany and across Europe. A coordinated effort from European governments to crackdown on the platform would cause to devastating damage to the freedom of speech and the right to assemble.