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Deplatforming: Following extreme Internet celebrities to Telegram and alternative social media


Abstract and Figures

Extreme, anti-establishment actors are being characterized increasingly as ‘dangerous individuals’ by the social media platforms that once aided in making them into ‘Internet celebrities’. These individuals (and sometimes groups) are being ‘deplatformed’ by the leading social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube for such offences as ‘organised hate’. Deplatforming has prompted debate about ‘liberal big tech’ silencing free speech and taking on the role of editors, but also about the questions of whether it is effective and for whom. The research reported here follows certain of these Internet celebrities to Telegram as well as to a larger alternative social media ecology. It enquires empirically into some of the arguments made concerning whether deplatforming ‘works’ and how the deplatformed use Telegram. It discusses the effects of deplatforming for extreme Internet celebrities, alternative and mainstream social media platforms and the Internet at large. It also touches upon how social media companies’ deplatforming is affecting critical social media research, both into the substance of extreme speech as well as its audiences on mainstream as well as alternative platforms.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Following extreme
Internet celebrities to
Telegram and alternative
social media
Richard Rogers
Media Studies, University of Amsterdam
Extreme, anti-establishment actors are being characterized increasingly as ‘dangerous
individuals’ by the social media platforms that once aided in making them into ‘Internet
celebrities’. These individuals (and sometimes groups) are being ‘deplatformed’ by the
leading social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube for
such offences as ‘organised hate’. Deplatforming has prompted debate about ‘liberal big
tech’ silencing free speech and taking on the role of editors, but also about the questions
of whether it is effective and for whom. The research reported here follows certain of
these Internet celebrities to Telegram as well as to a larger alternative social media
ecology. It enquires empirically into some of the arguments made concerning whether
deplatforming ‘works’ and how the deplatformed use Telegram. It discusses the effects of
deplatforming for extreme Internet celebrities, alternative and mainstream social media
platforms and the Internet at large. It also touches upon how social media companies’
deplatforming is affecting critical social media research, both into the substance of
extreme speech as well as its audiences on mainstream as well as alternative platforms.
Deplatforming, Social Media, Digital Methods, Telegram, Extreme Speech
Corresponding author:
Richard Rogers, Media Studies, University of Amsterdam, Turfdraagsterpad 9, 1012 XT Amsterdam, the
European Journal of Communication
0(0) 1–17
!The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0267323120922066
Introduction: Deplatforming on social media
Deplatforming, or the removal of one’s account on social media for breaking
platform rules, has recently been on the rise. It is gaining attention as an antidote
to the so-called toxicity of online communities and the mainstreaming of extreme
speech, or “vitriolic exchange on Internet-enabled media” that “push the bound-
aries of acceptable norms of public culture” (Pohjonen and Udupa, 2017). It is also
stirring a discussion about the ‘liberal bias’ of US tech giants implementing the
bans (Bilton, 2019; Mulhall, 2019). In the past few years, Facebook, Instagram,
YouTube, Twitter and other platforms have all suspended and removed a variety
of individuals and groups, comprising, according to one accounting, ‘white nation-
alists’, ‘anti-semites’, ‘alt-right’ adherents, ‘neo-nazis’, ‘hate groups’ and others
(Kraus, 2018). Many of those who have been deplatformed are on the far right
of the ideological spectrum, and certain of them could be described as extreme
Internet celebrities, such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones, whose removals
have had a significant impact on their visibility, the maintenance of their fan bases
and the flow of their income streams. Yiannopoulos has claimed to have become
bankrupt by deplatforming, which has included cancellations of a book deal and
college campus appearances (Beauchamp, 2018; Maurice, 2019). Jones has seen the
view counts and seemingly the impact of his posts and videos decline (Wong,
Deplatformings have been widely reported in the tech news and beyond
(Martineau, 2019). When Yiannopoulos, Jones, Laura Loomer and Paul Joseph
Watson were removed from Facebook and Instagram in 2019 for being ‘dangerous
individuals’ engaged or involved in ‘organised hate’ and/or ‘organized violence’
(Facebook, 2019), it drew widespread reaction, including the story of how
Facebook announced the ban some hours prior to its implementation, allowing
the deplatformed individuals to post notices on their pages, redirecting their audi-
ence to other platforms (Martineau, 2019). Laura Loomer, for one, announced her
Telegram channel; Alex Jones pointed to his websites. The migration from main-
stream to alternative social media platforms was underway.
At the same time, protests from these individuals and their followers have been
staged on the platforms that have removed them. Loomer, the ‘white nationalist’
banned from Twitter for a ‘racist attack’ on a Muslim US congresswoman, hand-
cuffed herself to the front door of the corporation’s office in New York city,
livestreaming her plight and her views on the suppression of ‘conservative’ view-
points on a supporter’s Periscope account (itself a Twitter service). Having been
banned, other users switched to platforms friendly to their politics, such as Gab, a
Twitter alternative that upvotes and downvotes posts like Reddit. It has become
known as a ‘haven for white supremacists’ and for its defence of free speech
(Ohlheiser and Shapira, 2018; Zannettou et al., 2018). It also positions itself as
distinct from the ‘left-leaning Big Social monopoly’ (Coaston, 2018).
When deplatformed social media celebrities migrate to alternative platforms,
these sites are given a boost through media attention and increases in user counts.
2European Journal of Communication 0(0)
Milo Yiannopoulos initially turned to Gab after his account was removed on
Twitter (Benson, 2016), and around the same time Alex Jones joined it ‘with
great fanfare’ (Ohlheiser, 2016). Indeed, when Twitter conducted a so-called
‘purge’ of alt-right accounts in 2016, Gab gained tens of thousands of users in a
short time. It is continually described as a favoured platform of expression for
extremism, including for the shooter in the Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 who
announced his intended acts there (Nguyen, 2018). Gab drew over a million
hits, after it became known that a mass shooter posted his manifesto there
(Coaston, 2018).
But mainstream social media drives more traffic to extreme content than alter-
native social media platforms or other websites, at least in the case when Alex Jones
was banned from Facebook and YouTube, as mentioned earlier. His InfoWars
posts, now only available on his websites (and a sprinkling of alternative social
media platforms, as we come to), saw a decline in traffic by one-half (Nicas, 2018).
When deplatforming leads to such declines in attention, questions arise about its
effectiveness. Is it indeed a viable means to detoxify mainstream social media and
the Internet more broadly, and/or does it prompt the individuals to migrate to other
platforms with more welcoming and ‘oxygen-giving’ extreme publics?
Effectiveness of deplatforming
There has been some scholarly attention paid to the effectiveness of shutting down
particularly offensive online communities, such as the subreddits r/fatpeoplehate
and r/coontown, banned by Reddit in 2015 for violating its harassment policies. It
was found that the shutdowns worked, in that a proportion of offending users
appeared to leave the platform (for Voat, an alternative to Reddit), and the sub-
reddits that inherited those migrating from those spaces did not see a significant
increase in extreme speech (Chandrasekharan et al., 2017). Indeed, the closing of
those communities was beneficial for Reddit, but less research has been performed
about the effectiveness of the ban for the health of social media or the Internet at
large. The Reddit study’s authors reported that not only did Reddit make these
users ‘someone else’s problem’, but also perhaps pushed them to ‘darker corners of
the Internet’ (Chandrasekharan et al., 2017).
The debate concerning the effectiveness of deplatforming has arguments lined
up on both sides. For those arguing that it does not work, deplatforming is said to
draw attention to suppressed materials (Streisand effect), harden the conviction of
the followers, and put social media companies in the position of an arbiter of
speech. For those arguing that deplatforming is effective, it is said that it detoxes
both subspaces (such as subreddits) as well as platforms more generally, produces
a decline in audience and drives extreme voices to spaces that have less oxygen-
giving capacity, thereby containing their impact. The Reddit study indeed found
that both the subreddits and the platform more generally saw a decline in the type
of harassment found on r/fatpeoplehate and r/coontown, but less is known about
the alternative platforms to which extreme users may turn.
Rogers 3
Telegram as ‘dark corner of the Internet’
Apart from Gab and perhaps Voat (to which deplatformed Pizzagate, incel and
QAnon subreddit users are said to have migrated), Telegram is another of those so-
called darker corners of the Internet (Wikipedia Contributors, 2019). It is an
instant messaging app, founded in 2013 by the same Internet entrepreneurs who
launched VKontakte, the social media platform popular in Russia. Telegram has a
reputation, whether or not well-founded, for highly secure messaging, having noto-
riously been listed by ISIS as ‘safe’ and having themselves championed privacy
upon its founding that coincided with the US state spying revelations by Edward
Snowden (Weimann, 2016). Indeed, the founders started Telegram so communi-
cations could not be monitored by governments, including the Russian authorities,
who pursued the founder on charges of tax avoidance until he fled the country
(Cook, 2018). The Russian state later accused Telegram of enabling terrorists
because it would not turn over users’ encrypted messages, leading to a ban of
the application in Russia. The founders, and their programming team, are them-
selves self-exemplary of privacy-enablers, for they require secure communication,
and have moved from location to location to elude what the founder calls ‘unnec-
essary influence’ (Thornhill, 2015). As I come to, encrypted communication is one
affordance that makes Telegram attractive to certain user groups.
How does Telegram appeal to its users, including those who have been deplat-
formed for violating platform rules? Telegram not only has the reputation but also
the affordances that would be attractive to those seeking something similar to
‘social privacy’, or the capacity to retain control over what is known about oneself
while still participating (and becoming popular) on social media (Raynes-Goldie,
2010). On platforms such as Facebook, such a user is public-facing at the outset,
and subsequently, makes deft use of aliases, privacy settings as well as account and
timeline grooming. That is how social privacy is performed. Telegram, however, is
something of a hybrid system, and in contradistinction to Facebook, it leads with
protected messaging, and follows with the social. That is, it is in the first place a
messaging app, where one has an account, and can message others and join groups,
first private ones (by default) but also public ones. It also has some elements of
social media, whereby one may create a channel (public by default) and have
others subscribe to it.
The apt deployment of Telegram would seem to conceptually invert social pri-
vacy. The app offers protected communication, appealing to a private user, rather
than to the public-facing user, seeking publicity (De Zeeuw and Tuters, forthcom-
ing). ‘Private sociality’ may be a term that captures operating in private chats and
private group chats both for the private user (not necessarily seeking publicity) as
well as the masked user (who may seek attention). One can operate in private mode
and still participate.
Second, apart from only private spaces in which to organize, recruit, chat and so
forth, the Telegram user may still seek publicity. Here the use of a channel is
4European Journal of Communication 0(0)
significant for it allows the building of a following. Similar to YouTube, one can
broadcast to subscribers.
Telegram thereby could be said to reconcile dual desires of protection and
publicity by offering private messaging and broadcasting. It thereby appears to
go some way towards resolving the ‘online extremists’ dilemma’, a variation on the
‘terrorist’s dilemma’, which concerns balancing ‘operational security and public
outreach’ (Clifford and Powell, 2019; Shapiro, 2013).
Telegram, as mentioned earlier, has had other extremist users who are often
discussed together with the Internet celebrities in journalistic pieces (Robins-Early,
2019). In a description of its use by ISIS, the app’s combination of features is
described as follows: ‘Telegram’s public-facing “channels” and private messaging
“chats” make it a “dual-use” weapon [...]’ (Counter-Extremism Project, 2017).
The groups broadcast to followers on channels and recruit and organize through
one-to-one chats, which are secure. One need not maintain a telephone number to
use the service; to sign up one can create an account with a temporary ‘burner
phone’ or an Internet proxy phone number, validating the account through a one-
time SMS message (Yayla and Speckhard, 2017). Once set up, ISIS accounts or
those from other such groups are not removed with the rapidity that it occurs on
Twitter or Facebook; many stay up for months or much longer (Shehabat et al.,
2017). Content also endures. On Telegram, there is the capacity to upload large
video files; once uploaded, the videos are linked from channels, and those links
persist unless the channel is closed or the user deletes the file, making it a reliable
source for recruiting materials, but also a space for archiving content that may
have been deplatformed elsewhere.
The deplatformed and Telegram
For the deplatformed, Telegram’s reputation may be appealing. It affords ‘pro-
tected speech’ by being permissive of extreme content. It also keeps content up and
available, thereby allaying threats of deletion, a key concern for those who have
been deplatformed, and saw their content removed. Telegram also offers means to
build a following, and broadcast to large numbers of users (as on YouTube and
Twitter). Like other messaging apps including WhatsApp, Telegram has groups,
though it does not limit their size as much. Groups can have up to 200,000 users
(compared to 256 for WhatsApp), and channels can have an unlimited number of
subscribers. Telegram also enables large clusters of groups, in that one can forward
a message to an unlimited number of groups, as opposed to the smaller number on
WhatsApp, a restriction that received attention in the wake of misinformation
campaigns around elections in India (and Brazil). (On WhatsApp India has a
special limit of 5 forwards, compared to 20 globally.) In all, Telegram can compete
for the deplatformed users by offering the kinds of features seemingly sought by
those seeking protected speech, archiving as well as a following. It is considered
both a ‘protected space’ as well as a ‘publicity space’ (Nagy and Neff, 2015).
Rogers 5
This study empirically examines the use of the platform by extreme Internet
celebrities that have migrated to it, inquiring into certain arguments made con-
cerning whether deplatforming ‘works’ and how those who have been deplat-
formed from mainstream social media use an alternative Telegram (DeCook,
2019). It discusses the effects of deplatforming for extreme internet celebrities,
alternative and mainstream social media platform, the Internet at large as well
as researchers. It does so first by mapping the alternative social media ecology by
creating a bi-partite graph of select extreme Internet celebrities and the platforms
they use. Subsequently, the focus is on Telegram, for which a scraper is built and
deployed to collect posts made on public channels by select extreme Internet celeb-
rities who have migrated to it. The Telegram analysis utilizes platform data (such
as view counts), extreme language detection ( as well as textual anal-
ysis (keywords in context). It does so to begin to examine empirically some of the
arguments made about the effectiveness of deplatforming.
From the point of view of celebrities newly migrated to Telegram, is it an
effective alternative to mainstream platforms? Do audiences remain robust, or
thin? Are the celebrities as active as previously? Do they become more extreme
in the language they use? We found active celebrities but thinning audiences; we
also determined that their language was mellowing.
Mainstream platforms that deplatform ‘dangerous individuals’ may lose a par-
ticular audience consuming extreme speech. Do the audiences also depart the plat-
forms, or do they remain, consuming other materials? One may begin to answer
the question by examining the celebrity discussion about mainstream platforms on
Telegram. One may also examine the hyperlinks from Telegram to the platforms.
Which mainstream platforms remain of relevance to the celebrities, and which fade
from interest? We found that Facebook and Instagram have been successful in that
they have become unattractive to extreme celebrities, whereas YouTube and
Twitter remain significant.
The research also maps out the alternative platform network to which deplat-
formed social media celebrities have migrated, and how they discuss certain of the
destinations. We found that most alternative platforms are used ‘instrumentally’ in
the sense that they are merely pointed to, rather than described for their particular
affordances. The exception is Telegram which appears to be a refuge, where mul-
tiple extreme celebrities have found a soft landing.
Mapping an alternative social media ecosystem
In order to map an alternative social media ecosystem, the research project com-
piled a list of deplatformed social media celebrities, mainly from the United States
and the United Kingdom.
At the same time, a list of alternative social media
platforms also was built, initially from those mentioned in right-wing public
groups on Telegram and supplemented through a so-called associative query snow-
balling technique, where search engines are queried for pairs of alternative social
media platform names (Rogers, 2018). Finally, each celebrity was sought on the
6European Journal of Communication 0(0)
alternative platforms. The connections between celebrities and platforms were
subsequently visualized in a network graph using Gephi, and interpreted through
visual network analysis (Venturini et al., 2015). Three findings stand out (see
Figure 1).
The map shows the centrality of BitChute (alternative to YouTube), Minds
(alternative to Facebook), Gab (alternative to Twitter) as well as Telegram (the
hybrid messaging and broadcasting platform), in the sense that a majority of
the celebrities maintain presences there. Second, one may observe the revival
of the web as a potential destination for extreme celebrity content. Whether by
pointing to personal websites or new subscription services such as,
the web comes (back) into view for these users. Some years on from the platform-
ization of the web, or the mass migration of activity from websites to social media,
extreme users are turning their attention there anew (Rogers, 2013). Third, there
are two mainstream platforms that remain central, since a number of the users
under study have active accounts there, having as yet not been deplatformed. Even
as their replacements are central in the alternative social media network, YouTube
and Twitter remain of relevance as a destination for extreme content and their
Finally, it should be pointed that the alternative social media network comprises
more than ‘the social’, including for example donation and payment processing as
well as merchandise destinations. The relevance of those types of alternatives
became clear initially when mapping which platforms deplatformed the celebrities
(see Figure 2). As PayPal and other payment sites remove particular individuals,
alternatives have emerged, however much both the scope of the deplatforming as
well as migration to the alternative appear still marginal.
The overall question of the robustness and longevity of the alternative network
remains an open one, but at least for Telegram, the research was able to make
some initial determinations concerning the question of whether the extreme voices
shrivel or thrive there despite having been deplatformed by mainstream social
Scraping Telegram for extreme celebrity activity
A Telegram scraper was built and employed to extract, through the platform’s
API, the contents of celebrity public channels.
Here the analysis concerns the
extremity of the language employed, posting activity measures and post view
counts, longitudinally, since the so-called ‘purge’ of ‘dangerous individuals’ from
Facebook and Instagram (in particular) in May 2019, a 6-month time frame in all.
The determination of extreme speech benefits from the deployment of hatebase.
org, the repository of (so-called ambiguous and unambiguous) extreme and hateful
speech (Davidson et al., 2017). In the celebrity posts, outlinks to other platforms
are counted, in order to gain an indication of which mainstream platforms are still
considered relevant destinations. Apart from these counts and scores, the project
also produced an analysis of celebrity discussions about mainstream and
Rogers 7
Figure 1. Extreme internet celebrities and the platforms where they remain or to which they have migrated. Bi-partite graph of extreme
internet celebrities and the platforms for which they have accounts. October 2019.
8European Journal of Communication 0(0)
Figure 2. Extreme internet celebrities and the platforms that deplatformed them. Bipartite graph of extreme internet celebrities and the
platforms for which they no longer have accounts (or have been ‘demonetized’ by them). October 2019.
Rogers 9
alternative platforms (with keyword in context word trees). We thematized these
discussions, finding how deplatforming and replatforming (or migrating to alter-
native platforms) are framed.
When the extreme Internet celebrities migrated to Telegram (and other alterna-
tive platforms), one question concerned whether they would be able to sustain
themselves there, given that the audiences are both smaller (as we found), and
thus, the interaction with the fan base or following less intense. Quantitatively,
the audiences on the new platforms have thinned (see Figure 3). Of interest is the
consistency of the celebrities in their posting, despite the overall audience strength.
Indeed, for most, it appears the ‘permanent updating culture’ has not been affected
by platform migration (Jerslev, 2016). There have been some changes in behaviour,
however. After a flurry of extreme language posted on alternative platforms in the
immediate aftermath of the May ‘purge’, its usage has flagged (see Figure 4).
Analytically deploying the ‘unambiguous’ extreme and hateful speech in the hate-
base repository, we found that there were increasingly fewer mentions of them,
generally, by most celebrities.
Whether one would expect a decrease in the usage
of extreme speech, especially given what could be thought of as a less moderated
space, is not clear, though in the Reddit study mentioned earlier those users who
were forced to migrate to other spaces also appear to use more mild language.
Which platforms benefit from deplatforming?
The research on how the extreme Internet celebrities describe how they have been
affected by deplatforming proceeded by querying both mainstream and alternative
platform names in the celebrities’ posts, and displaying the platforms as keywords
in context, using word trees. The hyperlinks in celebrity posts also were extracted,
in order to gain an indication of which platforms have content that is being
recommended or at least pointed to. Generally, it was found that Facebook and
Instagram are routinely critiqued as sites that do not grant freedom of speech
and whose use are generally not in the interests of extreme actors, whereas
Twitter and YouTube remain of interest, in the sense that they make appeals for
supporters to use the platforms to spread the word, or in the case of YouTube to
invite them on their shows (see Figure 5).
The research also examined the hyperlinks made from celebrity Telegram posts,
finding that by far the personal websites were most pointed to, followed by Twitter
and YouTube (see Figure 6). Instagram and Facebook draw far fewer links. The
link analysis provides an indication of which platforms are still relevant, and which
less so, both to the celebrities, but presumably to the content the celebrities also
find of interest for their audiences. In keeping with the earlier finding of the revival
of the web in the map of the alternative social media ecology, here the web emerges
again as the most linked-to destination, when the links to the personal websites as
well as newly formed subscription platforms are taken collectively. It also shows
that Facebook and Instagram are benefitting from the deplatforming activities in
the sense that celebrity interest in them has declined, while the other mainstream
10 European Journal of Communication 0(0)
Figure 3. Platform audiences of extreme internet celebrities before and after migration, depicted as Sankey diagram. Data per October 2019.
Rogers 11
platforms, Twitter and YouTube, have not seen such a concomitant slump.
Indeed, as the discursive analysis of Twitter and YouTube indicate, they both
continue to be viewed as resources either for spreading the word, and for broad-
casting content (see Figure 7).
Conclusions: Deplatforming effects and researcher migration
This study examines Telegram as a destination for the deplatformed, asking what it
has to offer not only to extreme internet celebrities, but also to researchers, who in
Figure 4. Post counts, post views and extremity of language used by all extreme internet
celebrities under study with an account on Telegram, May–October 2019.
Figure 5. Facebook discussed by extreme internet celebrities who were deplatformed by the
social media service. Word trees showing keyword in context from all Telegram posts, May–
October 2019.
12 European Journal of Communication 0(0)
a rather different sense are also being deplatformed, having seen their access to
data from mainstream platforms, especially Facebook and Instagram, diminished
or removed (Bruns et al., 2018). Should researchers follow the deplatformed to
alternative social media, and/or continue to research the mainstream platforms
where the data streams have been winnowed and replaced by company-curated
data sets? As has been demonstrated, one is able to study the reception of the
mainstream platforms through the posts on alternative ones, and gain indications
Figure 6. Web outlinks from extreme internet celebrity posts on Telegram, arrayed as circle
packing diagram, May–October 2019.
Figure 7. Twitter discussed by extreme internet celebrities who were deplatformed by the
social media service. Word trees showing keyword in context from all Telegram channel posts,
May–October 2019.
Rogers 13
of the extent to which deplatforming has ‘worked’ for the mainstream platforms.
Such work does not replace examinations of them, but it shows that analysing the
one social media site does not need to result only in ‘single platform studies’
(Rogers, 2019).
Unlike Facebook and Instagram, for researchers Telegram is not ‘locked’.
Apart from certain rate limiting, the platform allows widespread probing of its
public parts, both groups as well as channels.
Not only is it possible to study how
other platforms are discussed and linked to, but also the extreme voices may be
studied, where questions may be posed concerning (at least) two widespread views
that have been circulated about the effects of channelling them into an alternative
set of platforms friendly to them. Does the content become only more and more
extreme? There is also the question of the thinning of audiences, both in gross
terms but also over time, and whether the decline in audience strength provides less
oxygen and thus decreases activity. As reported, audiences have thinned, activity
has remained steady, and the language employed has become milder.
While difficult to determine with certainty, Telegram does not appear to be used
by these extreme Internet celebrities for private recruitment, content archiving and
other features that appear to make it attractive to those having been deplatformed.
Judging from the hyperlink and discursive analysis, Telegram rather is deployed
more like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook in a broadcasting mode,
with short (and frequent) posts put out on public channels.
‘Cancel culture’ is a contemporary term that describes the larger phenomenon
of public vilification for offensive speech or action, largely in social media but also
through other forms of deplatforming such as the calling off of a speaking engage-
ment (Bromwich, 2018; McDermott, 2019). One is cancelled by powerful media
forces (Coates, 2019), like a television show that had been thriving with niche
content and an audience not as sizable as desired. It also has been deployed by
extreme Internet celebrities to express victimhood or victimization. Indeed, when
researching how these users describe the mainstream platforms that deplatformed
them there are expressions of having been wronged, and also having been asym-
metrically (and unfairly) treated, when banned. Being cancelled by Facebook,
Instagram, Twitter, and/or YouTube has stark consequences for the maintenance
of a fan base, following and revenue stream, as has been reported. Migrating to
alternative social media may not offer as much. Platform cancelling at the same
time also demonstrates a shift in what is considered acceptable on social media.
Unacceptable content and individuals are removed.
Here it is important to return to the question of the ‘locked’ platforms, asking
how to research the delistings, deletions and other cancellations when the data to
do so on mainstream platforms become unavailable. Following the extreme inter-
net celebrities to alternative social media platforms provides one manner to work
on the question of the effects and effectiveness of deplatforming, albeit from celeb-
rity points of view as well as from their posting and linking behaviour. The alter-
native social media ecology also could be studied for the materials no longer
available on the mainstream platforms, having been moved and archived there.
14 European Journal of Communication 0(0)
While there are these and other research opportunities, following the extreme
internet celebrities to their new media does not substitute for critical mainstream
platform monitoring, and the study of what is deemed worthy of cancellation.
The project was undertaken by Lucia Bainotti, Gabriele Colombo, Veronica Moretti, Stijn
Peeters, Leonardo Sanna, Silvia Semenzin, Noemi Schiavi and the author at the Institute of
Advanced Studies, University of Bologna, with thanks to our host, Giovanna Cosenza.
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article: The research has received funding from the
European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agree-
ment No 732942, project ODYCCEUS.
1. During the research period in October 2019, a series of Italian individuals and groups
were deplatformed by Facebook and other social media sites, though they did not imme-
diately migrate, or at least announce their movements, to alternative platforms.
2. The capacity to scrape public groups is also a feature of the tool.
3. The extreme Internet celebrities may have mellowed in their explicit utterances, according
to the hatebase analysis, but they may still trigger hateful reactions through the use of
implicit language. Moreover, the analysis here relies only on the celebrities’ speech rather
than the replies and comments.
4. To subscribe to a private channel or access a private group, the researcher needs an
invitation (or invite link) from the administrator. Researchers have studied such
groups, for example, in an analysis of the culture of revenge porn sharing (Semenzin
and Bainotti, 2020) as well as ISIS lone wolf recruitment (Shehabat et al., 2017). There it
is argued that encrypted communication enables the sharing of more violent content.
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... The platform's privacy and anonymity make it a safe space for non-institutionalized activism in repressive political settings, such as Russia or Hong Kong (Herasimenka, 2022;Urman & Katz, 2022a, 2022b. It also provides a relatively secure communication environment for political extremists, conspiracy theorists, or deplatformed actors (Rogers, 2020). ...
... However, the intense use of social media by extremist actors has also led to an increasing spread of misinformation and disinformation, which distorts public opinion and poses a potential threat to democratic principles. This has led to the removal of accounts by major platforms (so-called deplat forming), forcing extremist actors to use other means (Rogers, 2020). ...
... The most prominent example of a platform to which actors have switched is Telegram. Founded in 2013, it has become known for its propagation of the free speech approach (Rogers, 2020). The platform has experienced significant user growth since 2020 and now claims to have a global user base of 700 million active users (Telegram, 2022). ...
Crafted as an open communication platform characterized by high anonymity and minimal moderation, Telegram has garnered increasing popularity among activists operating within repressive political contexts, as well as among political extremists and conspiracy theorists. While Telegram offers valuable data access to research non-institutionalized activism, scholars studying the latter on Telegram face unique theoretical and methodological challenges in systematically defining, selecting, sampling, and classifying relevant actors and content. This literature review addresses these issues by considering a wide range of recent research. In particular, it discusses the methodological challenges of sampling and classifying heterogeneous groups of (often non-institutionalized) actors. Drawing on social movement research, we first identify challenges specific to the characteristics of non-institutionalized actors and how they become interlaced with Telegram’s platform infrastructure and requirements. We then discuss strategies from previous Telegram research for the identification and sampling of a study population through multistage sampling procedures and the classification of actors. Finally, we derive challenges and potential strategies for future research and discuss ethical challenges.
... Die Ergebnisse verschiedener Untersuchungen und Analysen deuten darauf hin, dass De platforming die im vorigen Kapitel beschriebenen Effekte nach sich ziehen kann. So konnte Rogers (2020) zeigen, dass die Followerzahlen der von Deplatforming betroffenen Akteure nach deren Ausweichen auf alternative Plattformen deutlich abgenommen haben. Dieser Befund deckt sich mit den Beobachtungen des New-York-Times-Journalisten Jack Nicas, der den Deplatforming-Prozess des US-amerikanischen Verschwörungstheoretikers Alex Jones für die New York Times rekonstruierte (Nicas, 2018). ...
... könnte die Wanderung der Anhänger:innen der Identitären Bewegung und Martin Sellners nach den Sperrungen auf Twitter und YouTube in die Telegramkanäle der beiden Akteure sein. Außerdem scheint sich -an Rogers (2020) anknüpfend -zu bestätigen, dass alternati ven Plattformen die Rolle als direkter Ersatz der Mainstream-Plattformen zukommt. Die in der Theorie aufgeworfene Frage, ob der Verlust an Gelegenheitsnutzer:innen oder hinzuge kommene Views durch die gestiegene Bedeutung innerhalb der Kommunikationsstrategie der Akteure überwiegt, ist somit klar beantwortet. ...
In unserem Beitrag untersuchen wir am Beispiel der Identitären Bewegung die Auswirkungen von Deplatforming – dem Sperren von Akteuren auf sozialen Netzwerken – auf die Online-Kommunikation von politisch rechten bzw. rechtsextremen Akteuren. Mittels quantitativer Inhaltsanalyse wurde die Kommunikation von zwei Akteuren der Identitären Bewegung auf Telegram vor und nach der Sperrung dieser Akteure auf Twitter untersucht. Vergleiche zwischen den Zeiträumen vor und nach der Sperrung erfolgten hinsichtlich der Kommunikationsfrequenz, der Postreichweite, des Kommunikationsstils und der inhaltlichen Radikalität. Zugrunde liegen der aktuelle Forschungsstand in diesem Themenfeld sowie Theorien von Repressionen, der Gegenöffentlichkeit und des Konzeptes der Dangerous Speech. Es zeigt sich, dass der Kommunikationsumfang nach der Sperrung abnimmt, die Reichweite des Telegramkanals wächst, der kommunikative Stil weitgehend konstant bleibt und eine inhaltliche Radikalisierung nur partiell zu beobachten ist.
... Unlike other SM/IM platforms, it primarily functions as a messaging app, allowing users to create an account, send messages to individuals and join private or public groups. However, in addition to this, Telegram also has some features of social media, including the ability to create public channels and allow others to subscribe to them (Rogers et al., 2020). As such, Telegram has been identified as a platform that is frequently used as a news source, but more importantly to spread misinformation and disinformation, playing an active, influential role in politics and beyond (Ng & Loke, 2021;Wijermars & Lokot, 2022;Herasimenka et al., 2023). ...
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The emergence of information warfare (IW) has brought about a revolution in the realm of military affairs. Existing research has already demonstrated how successfully weaponized information can be effectively used against an adversary with the most impressive military gear like never seen before. Yet, with the ever-evolving field of information and communication technologies, the scientific community still lacks a comprehensive understanding about IW, especially in the field of social media/instant messaging (SM/IM) information dissemination platforms. The aim of this research project is to further the knowledge about IW as executed through SM/IM media, specifically in the context of the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh war. Using Reflexive Thematic Analysis, the present study examined over 8000 individual news posts in two influential Telegram channels pertaining to the conflict. The resulting main themes were Historical, Political and Economic factors, Emotional Provocation and The Blame Game, all consistent with patterns observed in both traditional and contemporary media. The impact of the said themes on the behavioural and belief outcomes of the consumers, as well as the subsequent course of the conflict remain a subject for future studies.
... Deswegen bedarf es einer aufmerksamen Beobachtung, wie sie über digitale Plattformen verbreitet und in welche Inhalte sie eingebettet wird. In den vergangenen Jahren haben Plattformen wie Facebook ihre Publikationsrichtlinien verschärft, enger mit Strafverfol gungsbehörden kooperiert und extremistische Kommunizierende im Zuge von Deplatfor ming (Rogers, 2020) ausgeschlossen. Deshalb sind Akteur*innen, die Desinformation ver breiten, auf alternative Plattformen wie Telegram ausgewichen. ...
Der Beitrag analysiert, wie Telegram-Kanäle, deren Inhalte emotionalisieren, polarisieren und desinformieren, ausgestaltet sind. Dabei gehen wir davon aus, dass sich auf Telegram staatsskeptische Gegenöffentlichkeiten kommunikativ konstituieren, die sich entlang spezifischer Akteur*innen, Praktiken, Themen und Orientierungshorizonte als Figuration rekonstruieren lassen. Diese Rekonstruktion erfolgt auf Basis von Experteninterviews und einer qualitativen Inhaltsanalyse von 576 Posts reichweitenstarker deutschsprachiger Telegram-Kanäle. Wir arbeiten heraus, wie unterschiedliche Akteur*innen staatsskeptischer Gegenöffentlichkeiten Telegram-Kanäle in Hinblick auf Themen, Darstellungsformen und den Einsatz von Verlinkungen bespielen, und entwickeln auf dieser Basis eine Typologie. Als eine zentrale Praktik, die von verschiedenen, wenn auch nicht von allen Akteur*innen angewandt wird, erweist sich das Kuratieren: Inhalte, die oft multimedial aufbereitet sind, werden dabei von anderen Plattformen, aus anderen Telegram-Kanälen und von alternativen und etablierten Medien übernommen. Diese Praktik stellt Verbindungen her zwischen monothematisch ausgerichteten Kanälen, Kanälen, die sich klar einer bestimmten Ideologie zuordnen lassen, und solchen, die ein breites Spektrum an Themen und Orientierungshorizonten bedienen.a
... Platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Twitter (presently named "X"), Instagram, 4chan, and TikTok have thereby become associated with the spread of misinformation, conspiracy theories, and other adverse phenomena with strong narrative foundations [2]. The messaging platform Telegram in particular has been shown to attract extreme actors "deplatformed" from other social media [3], and to propagate misinformation, hate, and anti-establishment narratives through a rapidly expanding public network of interconnected, one-way messaging channels [4][5][6]. Yet for all efforts in documenting the proliferation of antagonistic narratives online, much still remains to be understood about the role of social media in bringing about such potentially harmful stories [7]. ...
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This paper offers an empirical investigation of the narrative profiles afforded by public, one-way messaging channels on Telegram. We define these narrative profiles in terms of the contribution of messages to a thread of narrative continuity, and test the double hypothesis that 1) Telegram channels afford diverse narrative profiles, corresponding with distinct vernacular uses of the platform’s features, and that 2) networks of Telegram channels sampled from thematically distinct seed channels lean towards distinct profiles. To this end, we analyse the textual contents of 2,724,187 messages from 492 public messaging channels spanning five thematic networks. Our computational method builds up the narrative profiles by scrolling down channels and classifying each message according to its narrative fit with the surrounding messages. We thus find that Telegram channels afford several distinct storytelling profiles, which tend to defy traditional notions of narrative coherence. We furthermore observe correspondences between the thematic orientations of channels and their narrative profiles, with a preference for disparate profiles in channels pertaining to conspiracy theories and far-right counterculture, a preference for coherent profiles in channels pertaining to cryptocurrencies, and mixed types in channels pertaining to disinformation about the war in Ukraine. These empirical observations thus inform our further theorization on how platform features allow users to construct and shape narratives online.
... Similarly, Richard Rogers shows when exploring "canceled extreme celebrities" that moving to the encrypted application Telegram "does not substitute" for the prior audience on mainstream platforms Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and/or YouTube due to "audiences on the new platforms hav[ing] thinned." (Rogers, 2020). ...
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Since 2019, researchers examining, archiving, and collecting extremist and terrorist materials online have increasingly been taken offline. In part a consequence of the automation of content moderation by different technology companies and national governments calling for ever quicker takedowns. Based on an online survey of peers in the field, this research highlights that up to 60% of researchers surveyed have had either their accounts or content they have posted or stored online taken down from varying platforms. Beyond the quantitative data, this research also garnered qualitative answers about concerns individuals in the field had related to this problem set, namely, the lack of transparency on the part of the technology companies, hindering actual research and understanding of complicated and evolving issues related to different extremist and terrorist phenomena, undermining potential collaboration within the research field, and the potential of self‐censorship online. An easy solution to this would be a whitelist, though there are inherent downsides related to this as well, especially between researchers at different levels in their careers, institutional affiliation or lack thereof, and inequalities between researchers from the West versus Global South. Either way, securitizing research in however form it evolves in the future will fundamentally hurt research.
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The migration of Twitter users to Mastodon following Elon Musk’s acquisition presents a unique opportunity to study collective behavior and gain insights into the drivers of coordinated behavior in online media. We analyzed the social network and the public conversations of about 75,000 migrated users and observed that the temporal trace of their migrations is compatible with a phenomenon of social influence, as described by a compartmental epidemic model of information diffusion. Drawing from prior research on behavioral change, we delved into the factors that account for variations of the effectiveness of the influence process across different Twitter communities. Communities in which the influence process unfolded more rapidly exhibit lower density of social connections, higher levels of signaled commitment to migrating, and more emphasis on shared identity and exchange of factual knowledge in the community discussion. These factors account collectively for 57% of the variance in the observed data. Our results highlight the joint importance of network structure, commitment, and psycho-linguistic aspects of social interactions in characterizing grassroots collective action, and contribute to deepen our understanding of the mechanisms that drive processes of behavior change of online groups.
Die Netzwerke sozialer Medien spielen heutzutage eine wichtige Rolle bei der Mobilisierung zu Demonstrationen. Insbesondere Telegram bietet viele technologische Vorteile für die Koordinierung von Protesten. Die „Querdenken“-Bewegung nutzt Telegram als primäres Kommunikationsinstrument. Bislang existieren wenige Analysen zur Struktur ihrer Kommunikation und konkreten Mobilisierung über Telegram. In einer quantitativen Inhaltsanalyse von 9.088.629 Nachrichten aus 943 Kanälen und Gruppen der „Querdenken“-Bewegung auf Telegram gehen wir dieser Forschungslücke nach. Mithilfe einer Netzwerkanalyse von geteilten Inhalten beschreiben wir die Struktur der Kommunikation, identifizieren zentrale Knoten wie den Kanal „@haintz“ und betrachten die funktionale Rolle, die sie im Netzwerk einnehmen. Anhand von Ortsnennungen in Nachrichten erkennen wir, dass „Querdenken“ vor allem in Ballungszentren wie Berlin und Stuttgart mobilisiert hat. Jedoch gibt es auch einen Mobilisierungstrend hin zu Mittel- und Kleinstädten. Zuletzt prüfen wir durch die Analyse zweier Zeitreihen, ob ein Zusammenhang zwischen den Protestaufrufen auf Telegram und der Presseberichterstattung über das Offline-Protestgeschehen besteht. Die mittlere Korrelation zwischen den Zeitreihen interpretieren wir als Beleg der mobilisierenden Kraft von Protestaufrufen auf Telegram.
Supply and Demand of a Locally Embedded Movement In the course of the Covid 19 pandemic and building on conspiracy theories, a strong far right mo bilization and radicalization has been observed, which crossed existing milieus and brought known right-wingers and previously politically inactive people together to take the streets. Social media played a major role in this, with the platform Telegram standing out in Germany. Political entrepreneurs and the extreme right used the crisis to build up a supply of topics, ideas and orientation via channels and by directly addressing their audience. At the same time, there is a considerable demand for such a supply, as follower and view figures show. In this paper, we use a quantifying distant reading approach to investigate how supply and demand in the far right and conspiracist Telegram scene in Saxony developed within half a year. In doing so, we elaborate on different communication patterns and-with the Covid 19 pandemic and especially the measures subsiding-identify a large thematic heterogeneity. The local Telegram groups in particular have established themselves as part of the reality of people's lives on the ground. The conspiracist content shared there poses a challenge to the democratic public sphere.
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In this essay, we reconstruct a keyword for communication—affordance. Affordance, adopted from ecological psychology, is now widely used in technology studies, yet the term lacks a clear definition. This is especially problematic for scholars grappling with how to theorize the relationship between technology and sociality for complex socio-technical systems such as machine-learning algorithms, pervasive computing, the Internet of Things, and other such “smart” innovations. Within technology studies, emerging theories of materiality, affect, and mediation all necessitate a richer and more nuanced definition for affordance than the field currently uses. To solve this, we develop the concept of imagined affordance. Imagined affordances emerge between users’ perceptions, attitudes, and expectations; between the materiality and functionality of technologies; and between the intentions and perceptions of designers. We use imagined affordance to evoke the importance of imagination in affordances—expectations for technology that are not fully realized in conscious, rational knowledge. We also use imagined affordance to distinguish our process-oriented, socio-technical definition of affordance from the “imagined” consensus of the field around a flimsier use of the term. We also use it in order to better capture the importance of mediation, materiality, and affect. We suggest that imagined affordance helps to theorize the duality of materiality and communication technology: namely, that people shape their media environments, perceive them, and have agency within them because of imagined affordances.
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Teaching the concrete methods needed to use digital devices, search engines and social media platforms to study some of the most urgent social issues of our time, this is the essential guide to the state of the art in researching the natively digital. With explanation of context and techniques and a rich set of case studies, Richard Rogers teaches you how to: · Build a URL list to discover internet censorship · Transform Google into a research machine to detect source bias · Make Twitter API outputs comprehensible and tell stories · Research Instagram to locate ‘hashtag publics’ · Extract and fruitfully analyze Facebook posts, images and video · And much, much more Designed with a suite of video tutorials and online tools as well as the Digital Methods Manual Interactive eBook, this is the guide to doing digital methods you have been waiting for.
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The ‘how to’ research protocol that follows describes how to build lists of URLs to seed link crawling software and ultimately make link maps of right-wing extremism and ‘new right’ populism in particular European countries. The maps show links between websites, or online networks of websites that can be analysed according to a series of technical characteristics, but here a substantive analysis is also undertaken. These methods may be situated alongside reading party manifestos and favoured literature, going native by embedding oneself in the groups, interviewing imprisoned or former group members, and other qualitative techniques to distil significant content. The online mapping method of issuecrawling can thus be considered either as an exploratory step that provides leads for further in-depth analysis, or as a means to create country reports with a broad stroke.
Conference Paper
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Over the past few years, a number of new "fringe" communities, like 4chan or certain subreddits, have gained traction on the Web at a rapid pace. However, more often than not, little is known about how they evolve or what kind of activities they attract, despite recent research has shown that they influence how false information reaches mainstream communities. This motivates the need to monitor these communities and analyze their impact on the Web's information ecosystem. In August 2016, a new social network called Gab was created as an alternative to Twitter. It positions itself as putting "people and free speech first", welcoming users banned or suspended from other social networks. In this paper, we provide, to the best of our knowledge, the first characterization of Gab. We collect and analyze 22M posts produced by 336K users between August 2016 and January 2018, finding that Gab is predominantly used for the dissemination and discussion of news and world events, and that it attracts alt-right users, conspiracy theorists, and other trolls. We also measure the prevalence of hate speech on the platform, finding it to be much higher than Twitter, but lower than 4chan's Politically Incorrect board.
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Exploring the cases of India and Ethiopia, this article develops the concept of "extreme speech" to critically analyze the cultures of vitriolic exchange on Internet-enabled media. While online abuse is largely understood as "hate speech," we make two interventions to problematize the presuppositions of this widely invoked concept. First, extreme speech emphasizes the need to contextualize online debate with an attention to user practices and particular histories of speech cultures. Second, related to context, is the ambiguity of online vitriol, which defies a simple antonymous conception of hate speech versus acceptable speech. The article advances this analysis using the approach of "comparative practice," which, we suggest, complicates the discourse of Internet "risk" increasingly invoked to legitimate online speech restrictions.
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The study aims to capture links between the use of encrypted communication channel - Telegram and lone wolf attacks occurred in Europe between 2015-2016. To understand threads of ISIS communication on Telegram we used digital ethnography approach which consists of the self-observation of information flows on four of ISIS's most celebrated telegram Channels. We draw on public sphere theory and coined the term terror socio-sphere 3.0 as the theoretical background of this study. The collected data is presented as screenshots to capture a visual evidence of ISIS communication threads. This study shows that ISIS Telegram channels play critical role in personal communication between potential recruits and dissemination of propaganda that encourage 'lone wolves' to carry attacks in the world at large. This study was limited to the number of the channels that have been widely celebrated.
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ISIS has been the most successful terrorist organization in history using social media and the Internet for distributing its propaganda, dissemination of its news and more importantly to communicate. There is no doubt that the frequency and quality of ISIS posts on the Internet, including their videos, memes and online journals are of a quality to make many professional editors and producers envious and they also receive much attention. Telegram has become the choice of the ISIS due to its specifications—providing secure encrypted communications and allowing users to share large files and act with their accounts operating with impunity. While Telegram administrators claim, they favor speech free of interference; it is time for the owners of Telegram to thoroughly consider the existence of ISIS presence and activities on their digital platform. Telegram has become the ultimate tool for the bloodiest terrorist organization in history, carrying and spreading its terrorist ideology around the world, recruiting and even directing cadres to carry out attacks globally. Recently, the families of the San Bernardino shooting sued Facebook, Google, and Twitter, claiming that these social media companies permitted ISIS to flourish on these social media platforms . It may soon happen that Telegram will also have to deal with several legal actions as ISIS cadres continue to utilize their application for their terror operations and communications. Reference for this Article: Yayla, Ahmet S. & Speckhard, Anne (May 9, 2017) Telegram: the Mighty Application that ISIS Loves, ICSVE Brief Reports,
This paper aims to analyze what is the role of Telegram affordances in orienting, amplifying and normalizing the non-consensual diffusion of intimate images (NCII). We focus on the sense of anonymity, the platform’s weak regulation and the possibility to create big male communities, arguing that these affordances are ‘gendered affordances’ (Schwartz & Neff, 2019), as they orient male participants’ harassing behaviours and, in concert with an established misogynist culture, contribute to the reinstatement of hegemonic masculinity (Connel, 2005). The research draws on data collected through an online covert ethnography of Italian Telegram channels and groups.
In 2015, Reddit closed several subreddits-foremost among them r/fatpeoplehate and r/CoonTown-due to violations of Reddit's anti-harassment policy. However, the effectiveness of banning as a moderation approach remains unclear: banning might diminish hateful behavior, or it may relocate such behavior to different parts of the site. We study the ban of r/fatpeoplehate and r/CoonTown in terms of its effect on both participating users and affected subreddits. Working from over 100M Reddit posts and comments, we generate hate speech lexicons to examine variations in hate speech usage via causal inference methods. We find that the ban worked for Reddit. More accounts than expected discontinued using the site; those that stayed drastically decreased their hate speech usage-by at least 80%. Though many subreddits saw an influx of r/fatpeoplehate and r/CoonTown "migrants," those subreddits saw no significant changes in hate speech usage. In other words, other subreddits did not inherit the problem. We conclude by reflecting on the apparent success of the ban, discussing implications for online moderation, Reddit and internet communities more broadly.