Amazon Web Services shut down hosting for the GOP’s Parler social media app late Sunday evening / Monday morning. Within hours, another app rose to the top of the App Store: Telegram.
Telegram saw a surge of new users almost immediately following Apple and Google banning Parler from their app stores. Members of pro-Trump websites believe that the Trump campaign and right-wing media figures instructed their followers to join them on the app. Newsmax host Benny Johnson is even running a “Trump Supporters Group” on the app.
However, we were unable to find a single person connected to Trump who has promoted Telegram or any of the “channels” seen above. There are multiple “Donald J. Trump” accounts and no way to verify which one is real. Is it the one with 273,000 followers that mostly just shares his tweets? Is it the one with over 400,000 followers that does the same thing? Maybe it’s the one with less than 7,000 followers that launched over the weekend and tells supporters to “prepare.” Nobody really knows. (Update: Don Jr. is officially on this network of channels now, and the Donald Trump account listed above will be the official one if he ever decides to join.)
Like Parler, Telegram’s roots stretch all the way to Russia. The app was created by Pavel Durov, a Russian entrepreneur best known for launching VK, the country’s own version of Facebook. Unlike Parler, Telegram does not store user data or ask for social security numbers.
Durov was ousted from his role at VK in 2014 after refusing to cooperate with the Russian government. The Kremlin wanted data about protesters in Ukraine who used VK — protesters against Yanukovych, the president that Putin and Paul Manafort helped install. Durov believed the order was unlawful.
After he was kicked out of his own company, Durov and his brother left Russia and launched Telegram in Germany.
It’s worth noting that Parler’s shutdown isn’t the only reason Telegram has doubled its weekly downloads. Many are rushing to Telegram from WhatsApp, which will begin sharing data with Facebook in February.
Update: A previous version of this file claimed that Pavel Durov is not an ally of the Russian government. This actually changed in May 2020 when he agreed to let the Kremlin use Telegram for “counterterrorism” purposes.
Photo: Christian Wiediger