5 hours after the assaults began, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that his nation was at conflict. With little to no official info, many determined Israelis weren’t simply watching violent movies launched by Hamas; they had been additionally getting caught up in a multitude of conspiracy theories. In some teams, the assaults had been already being blamed on the IDF for having betrayed Netanyahu. Different conspiracy idea teams on Telegram and X claimed it was all a false-flag operation by the Israeli prime minister. “One of many largest fronts Israel failed on, and one of many largest issues that helped create panic in Israeli society, was mis- and disinformation in the course of the first 72 hours of this factor,” Benjakob says.
Whereas movies and pictures of victims had been quickly going viral on main social networks, essentially the most excessive content material can all be traced again to Telegram. Benjakob describes Hamas’ real-time broadcasting of its assault on Israel as “psychological warfare.”
“As [Hamas] entered Israel, there was a digital onslaught launched as effectively,” says Benjakob. It was “insane” to see militants leaping the border fence, previous ladies being taken away, individuals being murdered of their beds. “It’s actually past something the Israeli psyche has skilled, at the very least in my lifetime.”
The weaponization of Telegram performed a key function on this psychological assault, sources argue. The platform’s lack of sturdy content material moderation, alongside its sprawling honeycomb of public channels and teams, enabled content material to quickly attain thousands and thousands of individuals.
Though Apple and Google, which host Telegram of their app shops, have now begun asking the company to ban Hamas’ predominant channels, Telegram has in any other case declined to dam channels disseminating excessive content material. In a put up on his public channel on October 13, Durov alluded to the issue of policing speech in a battle, and cited a Hamas warning earlier than a strike on the Israeli metropolis of Ashkelon as a purpose to not act: “Would shutting down their channel assist save lives—or wouldn’t it endanger extra lives?”
As with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Telegram, which is headquartered in Dubai, has as soon as once more discovered itself on the middle of a fancy geopolitical and humanitarian disaster. How this occurred—not as soon as, however twice—reveals the outsize energy of one of many world’s most tight-lipped know-how firms. Greater than a dozen interviews with sources on the bottom, analysts, and former Telegram workers reveal the ability of the platform to shortly unfold unfiltered content material forward of conventional media, in addition to the true extent of Hamas’ weaponization of the app—and what appears to be an ideological aversion to intervene on the higher echelons of Telegram.
The Weaponization of Telegram
Hamas accounts have been banned from most social media platforms for years. However, when it launched its assault on Israel on October 7, Hamas had an enormous presence on Telegram. The platform’s potential to quickly disseminate simply downloadable and sharable content material made it a vital weapon. Hamas’ Telegram channels grew quickly within the first 5 days of the battle. Qassam Brigades, the channel devoted to the group’s army wing, tripled in dimension from 205,000 to almost 620,000 subscribers, alongside a tenfold improve within the variety of views per put up, according to analysis by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Analysis Lab (DFRLab). Within the 12 months previous to the assaults, the channel had solely grown by 20,000 followers. Earlier than the takedown requests from Google and Apple, the Qassam Brigades channel was nearing 800,000 subscribers. It’s at the moment all the way down to roughly 670,000 subscribers.
DFRLab analyst Layla Mashkoor adopted the October 7 assaults in real-time on Telegram. Probably the most-viewed movies she noticed featured professionally filmed and edited footage of armed paragliders touchdown on sandy terrain and storming buildings. It isn’t clear from when or the place the video was filmed. Different footage, seemingly recorded on physique cameras and telephones, reveals fighters crossing the Gaza-Israel Barrier and exchanging fireplace. There are additionally scenes of Hamas fighters dragging bloodied IDF troopers from burning tanks. Cameras pan over slain Israeli troopers within the aftermath of an assault. This video, and others prefer it, have acquired greater than 700,000 views apiece on Telegram.