If you have been following any of the recent articles we have been publishing here at IST, you will know that we are keenly interested in the migration from social media to Over-The-Top messaging applications (e.g. Social Chat at Scale). There is no doubt that the recent headlines will have many looking at their choice of collaboration tools so we thought it would be interesting to look, again, at one platform that seems to have a ton of potential and some penetration to some interesting population centers of the world is Telegram.

My colleague, Dr. Andrew Yue, continues to look at the migration of human communications between various platforms, and in different regions of the world. His recent paper Social Network Analysis on Telegram: Identifying Key Actors at the Intersection of Social Media and Social Chat, describes this phenomena well. Andrew looks at the movement of conversations from these highly public channels to these more targeted, small-group, communications. The linked paper above, Social Chat at Scale, describes how this genre of communications is becoming the next front of the disinformation fight. A few excerpts from Andrew’s work are below.

Movement to Social Chat

As social media companies continue to increase efforts to police content on their platforms, social chat applications grow in importance for groups operating at the margins of society. Of particular importance is Telegram, which sits at the intersection of social media and social chat and has long been a favored communication platform for such groups. Its combination of private group chats and one-way microblogging channels make it ideal for the creation and dissemination of propaganda.[SL1]

Data discovery on Telegram is daunting. Free-text search is limited to the channels and chats in which the user participates, and discovering new channels to join is in itself a difficult task. Users can only search for public channels or groups that almost exactly match the display name or URL slug for the channel. In addition, invite links to private channels or group chats are ephemeral, often closing minutes after the link is first posted.

The combination of these challenges requires a data collection and analysis tool capable of transcending the siloed nature of Telegram data. In particular, analysts and operators require a tool that can quickly support the identification of public and private Telegram channels and groups, detect influential participants in these spheres, and determine critical nodes for propaganda distribution. In this paper, we demonstrate how the Pulse platform can be used to collect, index, and analyze Telegram data to identify key participants in a vast network of seemingly disparate channels and chats.

Building the Network

Utilizing our Pulse platform, we have demonstrated the ability to collect Telegram messages, collect and analyze attached media and links, and index all associated metadata from channels, groups, and supergroups[1], both public and private. This information can be used to record directed links between entities (channels, groups, users) as well as shared information (images, links to websites). Using Figure 1 as a guide, we can see that a user sending a message with an attached image to a channel establishes the following:

1. The identification of three entities (nodes): the user sending the message, the sent image, and the channel where the message was sent.

2. The identification of two directed connections (edges): from the user sending the message to the channel where it was sent and from the user sending the message to the sent image.

By systematically adding identified nodes and edges to a directed graph, we construct a social network that emphasizes information flows and identifies the handlers of that information.

We would be happy to share the full research paper that Andrew and our team put together. We would also be very willing to share samples of the Telegram data set we have been collecting over the last 12 months. We would love to hear from other companies that are watching this migration of communications away from social media channels and into the social chat channels.

Feel free to DM me or send a connection request and we will get it right over to you!

[1] Telegram. (2018). Groups, Supergroups, and Channels. Telegram. Retrieved from https://telegram.org/faq#groups-supergroups-and-channels