Telegram and the paradox of free speech

Telegram is a messaging app that presents an interesting riddle for our brains. When there were pro-democracy movements in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, the authoritarian ruler, blocked access for days on end to websites and messaging services, but Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, ensured that Telegram remained online. In oppressive regimes, Telegram helps pro-democracy protestors. On the other hand, in many developed and free countries, Telegram has often helped right wing hate groups, conspiracy theorists, and terrorists. Interestingly, for a brief period, it was the preferred communication channel for the terrorist group, Islamic State.

What we see is that with free speech comes both an opportunity and a danger. A couple of days back we saw the need to be trained in the art of the metaphor. We saw it is crucial that we learn how to read into what someone sells us – whether it is Ariana Grande selling a vision of consumerism or politicians selling us a vision of narrow nationalism.

But beyond that, we must realize that in the age of social media, each of us has a platform or an audience. This brings with it an opportunity as well as a danger. What we say can be both constructive as well as destructive. Here is a question I am asking myself, which I encourage all of us to ask ourselves. How intentional am I with my words – both in person and online?

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