German authorities accuse the messenger of becoming a safe haven for online hatred, calls for violence, and conspiracy theories
Germany’s Federal Justice Ministry has started two investigations against the Telegram messenger service, the ministry’s spokesperson told journalists on Monday, adding that the messenger might face fines. It stands accused of failing to designate a representative the German authorities can contact.
Earlier, the German DW broadcaster reported, the fines might amount to up to €55 million ($61.78 million).
According to Die Welt, Telegram has drawn the German authorities’ attention by becoming a safe haven for conspiracy theorists and hate preachers. The messenger also allegedly provided a platform for people sharing “disinformation, hate speech and repeatedly murder calls,” targeting such politicians as Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer or Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Soeder, the paper reported.
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“The Covid-19 pandemic has in particular contributed to people radicalizing themselves on Telegram [by] threatening others and even publishing calls for murder,” the president of the Federal Criminal Police (BKA), Holger Muench, told journalists last week.
The developments reportedly prompted the federal government to make fighting hate speech on Telegram one of its priorities. Germany’s Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said on January 20 that the messenger “operates like a social network,” but fails to comply with relevant German legislation aimed at combating hate speech and fake news on the social networks.
In an interview with the Donaukurier Ingolstadt newspaper, the minister also admitted that the German authorities had so far failed to contact the messenger since it had not named a contact person for Berlin. Buschmann said, at that time, that Berlin might try reaching Telegram by publishing its demands in the official Federal Gazette or raising the issue at the EU level.
Last Friday, Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser mulled “switching off” the messenger in Germany by Easter as a last resort if all other options prove to be unsuccessful, but quickly added that it was not her goal to get rid of the messenger service.
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The German government’s goal is to make Telegram delete content Berlin deems illegal. “We aim to work with Telegram, but we will also take action if Telegram does not cooperate,” Muench said.
Telegram has so far not commented on the developments.