Islamic State (Isis) has doubled its number of followers on encrypted messaging platform Telegram in less than a week, with close to 9,000 users now subscribing to its official channel. Across all channels, IS has garnered more than 10,000 followers, who receive images, videos and updates from the terrorist organisation.
IS uses a wide range of social media platforms to disseminate propaganda to its followers and to recruit potential jihadists. A significant campaign from law enforcement agencies and online activists to shut down accounts associated with IS has stifled the group's efforts in recent months, forcing it to spread to other platforms that are harder to police.
A recent update to Telegram that allows users to create public channels has led to a significant spread to the messaging app by IS. Since 7 October, subscribers to its main channel have risen from 4,000 to 8,500, while the number of channels associated with the group total more than 50.
Terrorist Telegram adoption boosted by FBI comments
Michael Smith, an adviser to the US Congress and co-founder of national security firm Kronos Advisory, told IBTimes UK that the trend of switching to platforms such as Telegram has most likely been accelerated by the growth in concerns about the issues that have been aired publicly by officials like FBI director James Comey.
"This trend has been discernible for some time, with notable expansion in Islamic State's use of Telegram occurring during the past six months," Smith said. "Islamic State supporters in the US and Britain who see the FBI director complaining about this issue on television will probably think to themselves: 'Well, if the head of the FBI says his staff finds it difficult to keep up with traffic on Telegram, then it's obviously safer for me to interact with other aspirant jihadists on Telegram versus Twitter.'
"It should be noted that Islamic State is not the only terrorist group leveraging Telegram to engage with supporters and recruit new members on a global scale. Al-Qaeda has long utilised Telegram for everything from communications with journalists at major news organisations in the West to propaganda distribution."
While it is possible to track IS on Telegram, disrupting the group's communications is much more difficult compared to Twitter.
Privacy at all costs
Telegram is yet to respond to a request for comment from IBTimes UK, however the chat app's founder has previously stated his position on the importance to protect privacy, regardless of how the service might be being used.
"I think that privacy, ultimately, and our right for privacy is more important than our fear of bad things happening, like terrorism," Pavel Durov said in an interview with Tech Crunch. "Ultimately the Isis will always find a way to communicate within themselves. And if any means of communication turns out to be not secure for them, then they switch to another one. So I don't think we're actually taking part in this activities. I don't think we should feel guilty about this. I still think we're doing the right thing — protecting our users privacy."
Telegram's policy states that it only processes "legitimate requests" to take down illegal public content, such as sticker sets that violate intellectual property rights, or porn bots in the countries where pornography is illegal. It is not stated specifically whether its channels fit under this policy.