In brief

  • Apple has told Telegram to take down channels used by protestors in Belarus.
  • The channels are being used to identify members of Belarus' authoritarian regime.
  • Telegram wants to keep the channels open, but Apple fears they could promote violence.

Apple is requesting that Telegram shut down three channels used in Belarus to expose the identities of individuals belonging to the Belarusian authoritarian regime that may be oppressing civilians. 

Apple's concern is that revealing the identities of law enforcement individuals may give rise to further violence. 

Telegram on the other hand, would prefer to keep these channels open but the company said that it feels it has no choice in the matter. These channels are a tool for Belarus' citizens protesting the recently rigged presidential election, but, with a centralized entity like Apple calling the shots on its own App Store, there's little the protesters can do about it. 

“I think this situation is not black and white and would rather leave the channels be, but typically Apple doesn’t offer much choice for apps like Telegram in such situations,” Telegram CEO Pavel Durov said in his Telegram channel.

Protesters gather in Belarus to oppose the 2020 presidential election results. Image: Shutterstock

The tension between Apple and Telegram is part of the wider issue surrounding Belarus' 2020 election, which saw incumbent Alexander Lukashenko re-elected despite claims and evidence the election was rigged. The result has seen thousands of Belarusian citizens take to the streets to protest. 

This tension also highlights a problem with centralized app stores. "Unfortunately, I assume these channels will end up getting blocked on iOS, but remain available on other platforms," Durov added. 

The Telegram CEO also said, in a post about the App Store’s 30% tax rate, that “Apple even restricts us—app developers—from telling our users that certain content was hidden for iPhone users specifically at their request,” adding that “Apple should realize how ridiculous their attempt to globally censor content looks.”

Decentralized apps as an alternative

In situations like these, decentralized alternatives that don’t rely on major companies like Apple could give protestors the channels they need to voice their concerns. 

On decentralized applications, content can only be removed by the publisher of that content, if at all. In other words, there is no central body with powers to censor or control what is published. Decentralized apps often run on their own, supported by user donations rather than external funding, which can prove to be another useful tool in protecting speech against external political influence. 

One such app is Voice, which, uses blockchain technology to provide a social media solution that keeps user interaction public and free from hidden algorithms.

Mastodon, another alternative social media platform, is community owned, providing a meaningful alternative to traditional platforms. The site is fully funded by donations, keeping out any risk of having to answer to external investors. 

A third decentralized platform is Peepeth, which runs on the Ethereum network. Peepeth is built in a similar way to Twitter, but quality of content is prioritized over engagement and advertisements.

As protests are becoming more common around the world, it becomes increasingly clear that centralized apps are not suitable.