The messaging app Telegram has restricted access to several channels closely associated with or operated by Hamas, as the militant group’s war with Israel rages on.
One major channel with more than 700,000 followers and known to be operated by Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, is no longer accessible to Telegram users through the platform’s iOS and Google Play Store apps, CNN confirmed Thursday.
Another account known to represent Hamas — which has more than 500,000 followers and recently posted videos from a spokesperson for the group as well as information about Israeli hostages Hamas has taken — had been restricted for users of Telegram’s iOS app, but was still accessible on the Google Play Store version of the app as of Thursday afternoon.
The restrictions mark a significant clampdown on a major source of pro-Hamas propaganda since the Israel-Hamas war began, one that Telegram’s error messages suggest may be driven by the app store operators’ policies.
Other popular Telegram channels that have expressed support for Hamas have also been restricted, according to CNN’s analysis. It is unclear whether those channels may be directly affiliated with the group.
Users of the Android version of the app who searched for the restricted groups received a notice saying: “Unfortunately, this channel can’t be displayed on Telegram apps downloaded from the Google Play Store,” CNN confirmed Thursday. Telegram’s iOS app labeled the restricted groups with a pop-up saying: “Unfortunately, this channel couldn’t be displayed on your device.”
The Android restrictions were earlier reported by CNBC and the state-owned Russian news agency TASS.
The restrictions come as Telegram has taken heat in recent weeks for allowing Hamas — a designated foreign terror organization in the United States — to continue operating on the platform, although the group is banned on platforms owned by Meta and Google, as well as on X (formerly known as Twitter). Hamas has seen its following surge on Telegram since its October 7 terror attack on Israel, with some accounts growing to hundreds of thousands of followers.
Extreme content that starts out on Telegram can quickly find its way to other, more mainstream platforms, disinformation experts have said.
The Telegram account belonging to the al-Qassam Brigades had, as of last week, seen its following triple on the app before it became restricted. That account is among those no longer accessible via Telegram apps downloaded from the Google Play or Apple App stores, CNN confirmed.
Telegram, a Dubai-based company founded by a Russian-born entrepreneur, has allowed Hamas to continue using the app despite rising scrutiny of how social media platforms broadly have handled the war, particularly by officials in Europe where terrorist speech is largely illegal.
Asked whether Google pressured Telegram to act on the Hamas channels, a spokesperson for the tech giant said only that the company’s app store policies require developers to moderate content including speech that glorifies terrorism, and that Google takes appropriate action when it finds violations of its policies.
“We don’t allow apps with content related to terrorism, such as content that promotes terrorist acts, incites violence, or celebrates terrorist attacks,” Google’s publicly posted policies say. Google’s policies only affect apps downloaded through its own app store, meaning that versions of Telegram that may be available on third-party Android app stores are not subject to the same restrictions.
An Apple spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s questions about the Telegram channels now blocked for iOS users. Telegram also did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN.
Because of its very loose content moderation rules, Telegram has become popular among extremist groups internationally and among far-right groups in the United States, said Brian Fishman, the co-founder of trust and safety company Cinder, and former head of Meta’s team that tackled terrorist and other dangerous organizations.
The app’s popularity in the US began to grow after the January 6 attack on the US Capitol when prominent peddlers of election conspiracy theories began using the platform after they were kicked off sites like Facebook and Twitter. Some 800 million people use Telegram globally, its founder says.
–CNN’s Donie O’Sullivan and Paul Murphy contributed to this report.
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