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Is private messaging apps the next misinformation?



So what do you take? Are you worried?

KEVIN Honestly, not really?

It is obviously not good for public security that neo-Nazis, right-wing extremist militias and other dangerous groups find ways to communicate and organize, and that these ways increasingly involve end-to-end encryption. We have seen this happen for years, all the way back to ISIS, and it certainly makes it more difficult for law enforcement agencies and counter-terrorism.

At the same time, there is a real benefit to getting these extremists from regular platforms, where they can find new sympathizers and take advantage of the broadcasting mechanics of these platforms to spread their messages to millions of potential extremists.

The way I have thought about this is in a kind of epidemiological model. If someone is ill and at risk of infecting others, you will ideally get them out of the general population and in quarantine, even if it means placing them somewhere like a hospital, where there are many other sick people.

It’s a pretty bad metaphor, but you see what I mean. We know that when they are on large, regular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, extremists do not just talk to each other. They are recruiting. They join completely unrelated groups and try to sow conspiracy theories there. In some ways, I would rather have 1000 hardened neo-Nazis doing bad things together in an encrypted chat app than infiltrating 1000 different local Dogspotting groups or whatever.

BRIAN I see where you are going with this!

When you open Facebook or Twitter, the first thing you see is your timeline, a general feed that includes posts by your friends. But you can also see posts from strangers if your friends reshared them or liked them.

When you open Signal or Telegram, you see a list of conversations you have with individuals or groups of people. To receive a message from someone you do not know, that person needs to know your phone number to reach you.

So to complete our analogy, Facebook and Twitter are actually billions of people wrapped up in a huge auditorium. Encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Telegram are like large buildings with millions of people, but each person lives in a private room. People have to knock on each other’s doors to send messages, so spreading misinformation will require more effort. On the other hand, on Facebook and Twitter, some misinformation can go viral in seconds because the people in this auditorium can all hear what everyone else is shouting.


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