Sputnik and RT Telegram channels saw a 37% increase in subscribers in 2021

Changes in moderation practices on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Whats-app prompted an explosion of subscribers to Telegram, a Russian-built and mostly unmoderated micro-blogging platform.

Pro-Kremlin Telegram channels boomed in 2021

Changes in the social media environment like major platforms — Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Whats-app upping their moderation — prompted an explosion of subscribers to Telegram, a Russian-built and mostly unmoderated micro-blogging platform.

Pro-Kremlin outlets seized the opportunity. Many like Sputnik Germany, RT France, and RT, seized on this opportunity by starting or posting more regularly to existing channels.

  • Together RT and Sputnik had amassed over thirty Telegram channels by August 2021.

  • In the past 6 months RT promoted its Telegram channel in at least 2,600 tweets.

  • Various RT and Sputnik channels in different languages have published over 9,000 Facebook posts that included a link to a Telegram channel.

Kremlin-aligned outlets featured website banners, widgets, and re-designs that promoted Telegram as a censorship-free haven. Over 8 months, these efforts saw a 37% increase in the RT-and-Sputnik-Telegram audience.

  • RT International gained 95,300 new subscribers.

  • RT Spanish 48,700.

  • RT Russian 23,700.

  • An analysis of 30 Telegram channels associated with the Kremlin found that these outlets now reach at least 696,480 subscribers.

As for the reach of content posted on Telegram this year, RT Russian garnered 466 million views. RT International clocked 154 million.

Currently, Telegram channels belonging to RT and Sputnik pale in comparison to more popular social media platforms, although some consideration should be given to who these channels have drawn and not simply the numbers.

Why would Kremlin allies pu

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rsue Telegram?

One explanation is that users who follow pro-Kremlin outlets doubt the long-term usability of mainstream social media outlets. While the Telegram audience remains small for the moment, the growth rate of subscribers has been steep, and could represent a highly influential platform in a few short years — perhaps even sooner than that.

Another reason is that the outlets themselves doubt their presence is viable on major social media platforms long-term. With YouTube deleting RT’s German-language channel for violating community standards, the days of major disinformers on mainstream platforms may be numbered.

Any new platform offers a new space to disseminate Kremlin-controlled messaging and disinformation. RT certainly hasn’t wasted any time. RT Germany posted a thank you to new followers who surged into the channel following the YouTube ban, and for RT Germany at least, there is plenty of reason to celebrate. Channel subscribers increased by 10,400 in 24 hours, a 100% increase.


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