Telegram 'no friends of terrorists', will shut down terror-related channels in Indonesia

The decision by the messaging app came after Indonesian authorities on Friday blocked all access to Telegram, saying several forums were 'full of radical and terrorist propaganda'

The messaging app Telegram is displayed on a smartphone, Saturday, July 15, 2017, in Bangkok, Thailand. Indonesia says it’s blocking web versions of the Telegram instant messaging app and will block the app completely if it continues to be a forum for radical propaganda and violent militants. (AP Photo)
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Telegram, the encrypted messaging app, is forming a team of moderators familiar with Indonesian culture and language in order to remove "terrorist-related content" faster, one of its founder said on Sunday, days after Indonesia limited access to the app and threatened a total ban.

Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, who cofounded the app in 2013 with his brother Nikolai, said in a message to his 40,000 followers on Telegram that he had been unaware of a failure to quickly respond to an Indonesian government request to block a number of offending channels — chat groups on the app — but was now rectifying the situation.

The ministry of communications and information technology said on Friday it was preparing for the total closure of Telegram in Indonesia, where it has several million users, if the company did not develop procedures to block unlawful content. As a partial measure, it asked internet companies to block access to 11 addresses offering the web version of Telegram.

Samuel Pangerapan, the director general of informatics applications at the ministry, said the app is used to recruit Indonesians into militant groups and to spread hate and methods for carrying out attacks including bomb making.

Mr Durov said Telegram has now blocked the channels that were reported to it by the Indonesian government.

"Telegram is heavily encrypted and privacy-oriented, but we're no friends of terrorists," Mr Durov said on his Telegram channel, adding he was "upset" over Indonesia's ban.

"We are forming a dedicated team of moderators with knowledge of Indonesian culture and language to be able to process reports of terrorist-related content more quickly and accurately."

Read more: Telegram faces challenge of terrorists using its service

Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, has stepped up cooperation with its neighbours to stem a growing presence of ISIL in South-east Asia as the region combats Islamic radicalism following the capture of the southern Philippine city of Marawi by ISIL-linked militants.

Nearly two months after the initial assault, Philippine forces are still battling to regain complete control of the city. Experts fear the southern Philippines could become a new base for ISIL, including Indonesian and Malaysian militants returning from the Middle East, as an international coalition retakes territory held by the extremist group in Syria and Iraq.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo said on Sunday that other social media platforms will not be affected by the government's decision on Telegram.

But the move sparked a public outcry in Indonesia, with Twitter and Facebook exploding with negative comments and some people reporting they were unable to access the domain. Indonesians are among the world's biggest users of social media.

The free messaging service can be used as a smartphone app and on computers through a web interface or desktop messenger. Its strong encryption has contributed to its popularity with those concerned about privacy and secure communications in the digital era but also attracted militant groups and other criminal elements.

Read more: ISIL lures children with alphabet apps via Telegram

Telegram, which blocks thousands of ISIL-related channels a month, "always open to ideas on how to get better at this", Mr Durov said.

On Saturday, communications minister Rudiantara said that Telegram had not processed the government's requests to take down "radical" content quickly enough.

"We are trying to support their business but we also need their co-operation in addressing our concerns ie in addressing negative content," he said.