The Hill

BY ARIEL BEN SOLOMON, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR - 

Despite claims by the messaging service Telegram that it is cracking down on Islamic State use of its platform, evidence shows otherwise. The Trump administration and Congress should act quickly to force Telegram to close down accounts affiliated with ISIS, its supporters and those of other terrorist groups. 

ISIS terrorists are getting instructions and orders on how to carry out attacks in the West by using the German-based messenger service, The New York Times reported on Feb. 4.

Steven Stalinsky, the executive director of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors jihadist activity online, told The Hill that Congress has not been moving fast enough to take action against Telegram.

“There are a handful of concerned members of Congress, but action needs to be taken now, before Telegram becomes deeply infested with jihadist communication and propaganda such as what happened to Twitter,” said Stalinsky.

Stalinsky said that MEMRI has been warning members of Congress and other government agencies in Washington for years about jihadist activity online, yet few listened until recently. “Then, Islamic State came and all of the sudden everybody cared about its activity on Twitter.”

Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) is one of those pushing for action.

“Terrorist use of social media has been a problem for years. I have been fighting to expose this threat since 2010,” said Poe.

“Since then, the problem has only gotten worse. We know terrorists use these platforms to fundraise, recruit, plan and carry out attacks. Telegram is no exception,” he continued, adding that “there is arguably no platform that terrorists are using more today than Telegram.”

Poe noted that Telegram is not the first to face this challenge and that other social media companies have adopted proactive policies that have proven effective in reducing terrorist use of their platforms.

“I will personally stay on top of social media companies like Telegram who continue to allow terrorists to use and abuse their platform.”

In December, Poe sent a letter to Telegram, urging the company to follow the lead of other social media platforms. “I have not received a response and it will not be the last time they hear from me,” he said.

Despite claims by the messaging service Telegram that it is cracking down on Islamic State use of its platform, evidence shows otherwise. The Trump administration and Congress should act quickly to force Telegram to close down accounts affiliated with ISIS, its supporters and those of other terrorist groups. 

ISIS terrorists are getting instructions and orders on how to carry out attacks in the West by using the German-based messenger service, The New York Times reported on Feb. 4.

 Steven Stalinsky, the executive director of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors jihadist activity online, told The Hill that Congress has not been moving fast enough to take action against Telegram.

“There are a handful of concerned members of Congress, but action needs to be taken now, before Telegram becomes deeply infested with jihadist communication and propaganda such as what happened to Twitter,” said Stalinsky.

Stalinsky said that MEMRI has been warning members of Congress and other government agencies in Washington for years about jihadist activity online, yet few listened until recently. “Then, Islamic State came and all of the sudden everybody cared about its activity on Twitter.”

Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas) is one of those pushing for action.

“Terrorist use of social media has been a problem for years. I have been fighting to expose this threat since 2010,” said Poe.

“Since then, the problem has only gotten worse. We know terrorists use these platforms to fundraise, recruit, plan and carry out attacks. Telegram is no exception,” he continued, adding that “there is arguably no platform that terrorists are using more today than Telegram.”

Poe noted that Telegram is not the first to face this challenge and that other social media companies have adopted proactive policies that have proven effective in reducing terrorist use of their platforms.

“I will personally stay on top of social media companies like Telegram who continue to allow terrorists to use and abuse their platform.”

In December, Poe sent a letter to Telegram, urging the company to follow the lead of other social media platforms. “I have not received a response and it will not be the last time they hear from me,” he said.

“We can't stop until they have nowhere to turn,” he concluded.

MEMRI continues to monitor Telegram on a daily basis, and cyber jihadists, led by ISIS, are growing not just in the West but worldwide, stated Stalinsky in a MEMRI report last month. 

For example, he noted that in January, ISIS groups on Telegram launched a campaign to have their videos translated into 12 languages and recruit supporters for specific positions. There are numerous other MEMRI reports documenting ongoing jihadist activity on Telegram.

In a December report published by MEMRI last year, several recommendations were made to remove jihadist content from the app. 

First, MEMRI emphasized the need to put pressure on Germany and Telegram. In addition, the report called on Google and Apple, which offer the Telegram app, to use their power to force it to remove jihadist content. Their app should be removed if they fail to comply, the report said.

Moreover, the U.S. can act against any Telegram servers located in the U.S., it said.

Congressman Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) said, “Telegram is increasingly cited as the encrypted app that members of ISIS and other jihadi terrorist organizations use to communicate with each other and recruit new terrorists.”

“Telegram should follow the examples of Twitter and Facebook, which have taken on the responsibility of limiting and disrupting terrorist activities on their platforms,” he said. “Providing terrorists the ability to correspond freely by using encrypted forums will result in increased recruitment and planning, and ultimately more attacks and more innocent victims.” 

In December, Sherman wrote a letter to Telegram head Pavel Durov stating that “no private company should allow its services to be used to promote terrorism and plan out attacks that spill innocent blood.” He went on to request that Durov do all in his power to prevent terrorists from using Telegram.

Unfortunately, this message has not been listened to.

Responding to my tweet of a Washington Post story published on Dec. 23 that quotes Stalinsky on how Telegram is becoming the “app of choice” for jihadists, Telegram’s Durov responded that it had more jihadists on its platform because it was a “more popular” application.

Durov retweeted a Telegram Messenger tweet that claimed every day it blocks over 60 ISIS-related channels. 

The day after the Washington Post story was published, Telegram createdan ISIS Watch Channel. However, MEMRI says that Telegram is doing little to stop jihadist activity.

Durov has not responded to a request for comment.

The Trump administration and Congress have a responsibility to punish social networks that allow jihadists to operate. They must take action, now.