After Facebook cracked down on right-wing extremists last week, many of the far right’s loudest voices found themselves gravitating towards what appears to be their next digital home: an encrypted messaging app previously known as a haven for terrorist recruiters.
Telegram is a platform that allows users to offer short, public-facing posts akin to a Twitter profile page. Its universe of users is much smaller, however. And its user setup makes it harder for one to grow a following. But for the purposes of those banished from the established platforms—figures like anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos—the platform’s “channels” have had to do the trick.
Before her Facebook and Instagram accounts were finally shuttered, Loomer urged her followers to join her on Telegram. Yiannopoulos has set up his own account there too. And right-wing personalities who haven’t been thrown off of every major social media site have begun creating their own Telegram channels in anticipation of their own eventual bans.
"Instagram is going to ban me in minutes," Loomer wrote in a final post on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. "Make sure you sign up for my Telegram."
For some people, being kicked off a social media platform on grounds of making false or inflammatory posts would be, to some degree at least, a humbling experience. But for Loomer and Yiannopoulos it has been a call to arms. And Telegram is helping to broadcast their march to even further extremes.
After her ban, Loomer used the site to single out individual journalists at CNN, The Daily Beast, and Right Wing Watch, calling them “enemies of free speech.” Yiannopoulos, meanwhile, claimed on Telegram that he, Loomer, and InfoWars chief Alex Jones were “today’s n---ers,” using the uncensored version of the slur that would have almost certainly earned him some form of punishment had he posted it on a major social media platform. The two have also used the platform to air their anger at their ostensible conservative allies for not showing them the requisite empathy over being exiled from Facebook and Twitter in the first place.
“Can these republicans muster up the courage to say our names?” Loomer wrote to her Telegram followers. Noting that much of the attention in far-right and conservative circles has been devoted to portraying InfoWars reporter Paul Joseph Watson and actor James Woods as victims of alleged social media censorship, she added that conservative politics is a “men’s club.” Loomer even posted an open letter to Donald Trump on Telegram, pleading with him to help get her back on more significant social media platforms.
“My friends were my followers,” she wrote on Telegram. “Men only like me because I’m famous and have followers.”
Yiannopoulos, meanwhile, complained that Breitbart, the right-wing outlet where he once worked, wasn’t working hard enough to get him back on Facebook.
“If Breitbart still had any balls, it would be calling for mass civil disobedience,” he wrote on Telegram.
A messaging program launched in 2013 by Russian brothers Pavel and Nikolai Durov, Telegram has become popular for its encryption and self-destructing messages. Those secrecy features have made Telegram a hit with terrorist recruiters and planners. In 2018, the platform claimed 200 million people used the program each month.
For right-wing personalities who became famous by blasting out their hate speech to the widest possible audiences they could find on Twitter and Facebook, the secrecy of Telegram would seem to be a downside. As would the somewhat cumbersome user requirements. Telegram forces users to download the app before they can view a channel, creating an additional barrier to entry for Loomer or Yiannopoulos fans used to just loading Twitter or Facebook in a web browser. As a result, the right-wing personalities pushed onto the app are dealing with drastically reduced audiences. Loomer had more than 115,000 followers on Instagram before she was banned, but as of Monday has only roughly 6,500 on Telegram. Yiannopoulos had more than 400,000 Instagram followers, but has only about 3,600 on Telegram.
Telegram Messenger, Telegram’s developer, didn’t answer questions sent by The Daily Beast. Nor did Loomer or Yiannopoulos.
Why the two chose Telegram is not entirely clear. Gab, the alt-right-friendly social media network that has previously been popular with right-wing and white supremacist personalities banned from Twitter and Facebook, would have been a more natural landing spot for the duo. But while Yiannopoulos has kept up his account on the site, where he has more than 70,000 followers, Loomer hasn’t posted to Gab in nearly a month.
Other right-wing personalities have set up their own fallback Telegram channels as they face social media bans. Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy set up a Telegram channel in April after she was banned from Facebook, although she is still active on Twitter.
Right-wing prankster Jacob Wohl urged his Instagram fans to join his Telegram channel after Facebook purged Loomer and Yiannopoulos. Wohl, who has already been banned from Twitter but remains on Facebook and Instagram, had earned 65 followers on Telegram as of Monday.
Loomer and Yiannopoulos aren’t the first people to turn to Telegram after facing social media bans. Andrew Anglin, the founder of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, in April urged his fans to use Telegram because of its perceived secrecy advantages over Slack-like chat app Discord. Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s club banned from Facebook and Twitter, also communicate with their members through a series of Telegram accounts.