telegram is among the most downloaded apps in war fronts

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has highlighted both the power and perils of decentralized social media platforms like Telegram, which has emerged as a vital source of news and misinformation for millions on both sides of the conflict.

Ukrainians have utilized Telegram’s open infrastructure to quickly organize, warn citizens of airstrikes, and spread critical information during the siege. Ukrainian government officials, locals, and refugees rely heavily on Telegram channels to communicate and access real-time updates. However, the app’s lax moderation policies also enable propaganda and disinformation to spread rapidly from pro-Russian channels.

Ukrainian government channels on Telegram provide crucial information to citizens. President Zelenskyy uses his channel to share videos and rally support. Its following has grown from around 65,000 pre-invasion to over 1.5 million currently.

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The Ukrainian government repurposed its COVID-19 Telegram channel ‘Ukraine Now’ into an outlet with over 3 million subscribers. Local officials post air raid warnings, evacuation tips, and shelter maps. Citizens provide information about Russian troop movements through Telegram bots, helping Ukraine target attacks.

Telegram has also coordinated Ukraine’s massive refugee crisis, connecting displaced people with aid and information. Refugees like Artem Kliuchnikov in France rely on Telegram as their primary news source about the destruction in Ukraine. “Telegram has become my primary news source.”, Kliuchnikov told NPR in a recent interview.

Separated Ukrainian parents stay in touch with children in Russia through the app. However, experts warn Telegram’s default lack of encryption leaves content vulnerable. While “Secret Chats” are encrypted, default chats aren’t, meaning that Telegram could be forced to provide data.

Telegram Channels, The Most Used Tool to Spread News by Those on the Ground

ukraine ranks 9th in number of telegram app downloads in 2022Pro-Russian channels spread disinformation by posing as “war correspondents” to Telegram’s growing Russian audience, which is mostly cut off from mainstream social media. Estimates indicate that channels disguised as fact-checkers spread Kremlin propaganda to over 600 million followers.

For both Russians and Ukrainians, Telegram has become the main source of independent news about the war. Some accurate details contradict Russia’s official narrative. Still, pro-Kremlin channels use “mirror” versions to evade bans while spreading propaganda.

Telegram’s role in fueling both truth and falsehoods shows the pitfalls of unmoderated platforms during crises. While empowering marginalized voices, they also enable misinformation to spread rapidly. The onus falls on discerning users to evaluate constant updates.

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Popular Ukrainian military and media channels providing counteroffensive updates include those run by brigades like the 36th Separate Marine Infantry Brigade as well as outlets like Kyiv Post and Butusov Plyus. For Russians, Telegram is one of the only places to access independent reporting following censorship.

As the brutal conflict continues, so too does the information battle raging on Telegram. While giving voice to the besieged, it also intensifies asymmetric warfare where viral falsehoods prove as dangerous as conventional weapons.

The app highlights the difficult balance between openness and oversight that decentralized platforms must strike amid extremism, war, and urgent social crises. But in Ukraine’s darkest hour, it has also proven a critical lifeline for citizens to organize, communicate, and access real-time information—showing how open platforms can be harnessed for good if wielded with wisdom and discernment.

Ukraine Ranked 9th in Terms of App Downloads of Telegram in 2022

Pavel Durov, the Chief Executive Officer of Telegram, was forced to flee Russia after Putin’s government took over the social networking website known now as VK that he co-founded in 2006. He reportedly refused to hand over data from anti-Kremlin protesters back in 2014 and that set off a chain of events that pushed him to escape for his own safety.

Durov went on to create Telegram along with his brother Nikolai two years after and now runs the company from Dubai. Thus far, the instant messaging app boasts over 500 million monthly active users – roughly a quarter of WhatsApp’s user base.

According to data from Statista, most Telegram downloads in 2022 came from India. Russia was second on the list with 34.4 million downloads while the app was installed by over 10 million users in Ukraine, making the latter the 9th country in terms of downloads during that period.