EU probes Telegram, because size matters for regulators

Russian info slinger could be on the hook for posting disinformation

The European Union is reportedly looking into messaging app Telegram, and whether it has more users than the platform lets on.

EU officials are currently in discussions with Telegram concerning its user base according to Bloomberg, which cited unnamed sources. While Telegram officially claims it has just 41 million European users, local regulators are skeptical and suspect the actual user amount is higher. This is particularly relevant since platforms with 45 million or more users (termed very large online platforms or VLOPs) operating in the EU are subject to stricter rules of the EU Digital Services Act (DSA).

"As of February 2024, Telegram had an estimated average of 41 million monthly active EU users over the preceding six months," the platform claims in a now-defunct page about Telegram and the DSA, which can be viewed via the Wayback Machine.

"The number of monthly active users relevant for calculating this threshold is likely to be even lower, as only some of Telegram's features can be considered 'online platforms' within the meaning of the Digital Services Act."

The URL for this webpage now redirects to the regular terms of service, which makes no mention of the DSA. It is unclear why the page was taken down, though it might have something to do with the probe.

The EU may have been spurred into its investigation at least partly by Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who reportedly said "it should qualify as a very large online platform." She compared Telegram to Facebook and X, and said it should follow the same rules.

Should Telegram be found to have more than 45 million EU users, it would qualify as a VLOP and potentially be responsible for the content hosted on the service. The platform is especially popular among Russian accounts that spread (dis)information about the Russo-Ukrainian War and other topics. The Wagner Group has used Telegram prolifically, and its late leader Yevgeny Prigozhin even announced his rebellion against the Russian government on Telegram.

Running afoul of the DSA could result in big fines up to 6 percent of revenue, or even banishment from the EU, if Telegram refuses to cooperate. The new law has been used to probe Meta and TikTok on the grounds of child safety, so the EU clearly isn't shy about at least looking into matters. Most notably, X was the first to be investigated via the DSA for hosting disinformation and other illegal content. ®

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