Why is Telegram so popular with the masses

5 min read
The Telegram app has also made waves overseas, with Germany considering banning the app due to an influx of extremist content, including anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that have led to threats of violence.

But what makes the app so popular -- it now has more than 500 million users -- and a hotbed of scams? What can be done about its problems? The Straits Times explained.

1. Super chat group size draw

Mr Bryan Tan, a lawyer specialising in technology law from Pinsent Mason MPillay, attributes Telegram's popularity to its large chat size of 200,000 users - compared to WhatsApp's limit of 256 users.

"This allows Telegram to be used for large groups, almost like a news site, without having to run expensive content servers," he said, adding that the app also allows users to send large files.

2. Account registration does not require a phone number

There is an option to provide a phone number when registering for a Telegram account.

"Anonymity plays an important role in the spread of misinformation because there is no accountability mechanism," said Edson C. Tandoc Jr, associate professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Telegram中文官网 , from NTU's Centre for Information Integrity and the Internet, added: "Take the example of anti-vaccination groups, where people share information that may not be supported by evidence. It's just the amount of information that is received every day that can convince some people."

But experts say a bigger problem stemming from the growing use of Telegram and the anonymity it provides is the formation of extremist groups.

"Coordinating terrorist attacks, supporting terrorist ideals and spreading disinformation remain the biggest threats," said Ms Tania Chin, a partner in the criminal litigation team at law firm Withers KhattarWong.

3. Lack of default end-to-end encryption

Dr Natalie Pang, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Head of the Department of Communications and New Media at the National University of Singapore, said Telegram does not offer end-to-end encryption by default as it does with other apps like WhatsApp.
Why is Telegram so popular with the masses

Encryption ensures that only the two users of the communication can access the information shared in the chat.

"In other words, chats in Telegram are still at risk of being leaked and accessed by third parties," Dr Pang said.

This means hackers can use Telegram to spread malware or ransomware to steal or lock down users' data.

4. There is no default limit for message forwarding

While Telegram group chat owners can limit forwarding from their chats, if the option is not selected, there is no limit to the number of times a message can be forwarded on the app.

WhatsApp, which has 2 billion users worldwide, imposed restrictions in April 2020 after the spread of fake news related to the Covid-19 pandemic on its platform caused negative news. Under the new rules, users can only message one chat room at a time if the message has been forwarded more than five times.

5. Applying the ban won't solve the broader problem

Mr Benjamin Ang, who serves on the executive committee of the Internet Society's Singapore chapter, said banning the app would force users to find other ways to share information.

"Apps and platforms come and go, so instead of trying to catch up by regulating every new platform that comes along, the alternative is to go after those who spread extremist content or dangerous disinformation," he said.

Media Literacy Council member Dr Jiow Hee Jhee said the risks posed by Telegram were not much different from other apps.

"Ultimately, public education about safe digital practices will be a long-term solution," Ms Chin said.

6. Because of its strict safety standards
Embracing ostensibly lofty goals, free services, and the experience of VKontakte's creators, Telegram seems like a great alternative to any leading messaging app. Following WhatsApp's takeover message and outage, the app has soared at just the right time. The company has incentivized millions of new users to switch, but retaining those users will be an ongoing challenge. "Phone-number-based messaging has zero or near-zero user switching costs," Union Square Ventures partner Albert Wenger noted in a blog post, but that's only half the story. A network is only as strong as the number of friends you have using it, and convincing all of your friends to switch is no easy task. If Facebook thought WhatsApp users might switch on short notice, it wouldn't have paid the company $19 billion.
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