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S(t)inging Telegram

S(t)inging Telegram

A popular messaging app refuses to play ball with authoritarian government’s internet censors. The app gets banned. Simple, right? Not exactly, as my pal @kevinallison, our tech guru, explains.


Look at Russia, where the government has tried to ban and block access to Telegram, a secure messaging service that has refused to share its users’ encryption keys with spy agencies. Since placing the app on a blacklist about a week ago, the government has been playing whack-a-mole with Telegram ever since, as the app deftly hops from one internet address to another, always a step ahead of the authorities.

As of Monday evening, in fact, Telegram was still widely available in Russia, but many other websites ended up knocked offline as collateral damage of the government’s scorched-earth attempt to block it. Meanwhile, Telegram founder Pavel Durov (a Dubai-based Russian national often compared to Mark Zuckerberg) seems to be enjoying it all — he even posted a shirtless photo of himself (and he’s pretty ripped), in an obvious challenge to the often bare-chested Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But beyond the obvious entertainment value, the episode shows that not all authoritarian governments have quite the control over the internet that you might imagine. Although the Kremlin has skillfully used the internet to pursue its aims abroad, it still struggles with the politics of controlling online information flows at home.

Russia lacks anything like China’s Great Firewall which gives Beijing much finer control over apps and websites within China’s borders. In part that’s because unlike in China, where the internet and censorship have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of the web’s arrival, Russians are more accustomed to accessing whatever websites they like. Telegram, for example, is the messaging app of choice for many high-ranking government officials and oligarchs.

That means the authorities have to be more careful about how they exercise control. Overreach can either provoke humiliating (shirtless!) defiance from a well-resourced and technologically-savvy firm like Telegram, or it can spark a backlash among users, particularly well-heeled ones, who take a certain amount of internet freedom for granted.

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Listen: The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he talks about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offers some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

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Biden strikes Syria. Now what?

Quick Take