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Call for Papers for M&K Special Issue: Telegram in the Political Public Sphere

Call for Papers for M&K Special Issue: Telegram in the Political Public Sphere

With more than 700 million monthly active users, the messenger service Telegram is one of the largest social media services in the world. Yet there is little research on this platform and its impact on the political public sphere.

Therefore, the journal M&K is calling for proposals for a special issue. Colleagues who would like to contribute an article are asked to send an extended abstract of their manuscript proposal to the editorial office by 15 December 2022.

The special issue is scheduled to be published in the 4th quarter of 2023. Guest editors are Dr. Gregor Wiedemann, PD. Dr. Jan-Hinrik Schmidt, Jan Rau, Dr. Felix Münch and Philipp Kessling.
The instant messaging service Telegram, founded in Russia in 2013, has become one of the largest social media services worldwide in recent years, with more than 700 million monthly active users. In Germany, Telegram is playing an increasingly important role as well. Not only in private communication, but also in political and social discourse. This is due to the special functions that Telegram offers its users. Unlike its messenger competitor WhatsApp, which limits the number of participants in chats to 256, Telegram allows private and public chat groups with up to 200,000 members. In addition, there is the possibility of creating "channels" without participant limits, in which only channel creators and administrators can post messages, which can then also be viewed there going back in time to the creation of the channel. These features indicate that Telegram is no longer only used for private communication, but also for public communication. At the same time, the communicative architecture of Telegram differs from that of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. 

For a long time, these hybrid characteristics led to uncertainty as to whether Telegram was a service for individual communication or a social network within the regulatory scope of the Network Enforcement Act (NEA). It was not until 2021 that the Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) came to the conclusion that Telegram fell under the NEA and consequently had to remove content from its platform that was punishable in Germany, among other things. Since then, the BfJ has been confronted with the fact that it has no direct contact with the operating company, because the website telegram.org simply does not have a legal notice. It is known that the development team is mainly located in Dubai. The company itself claims to offer "secure" communication tools to protect the privacy of its users, in contrast to Meta's competitors. However, possibilities to verify these claims according to the European Data Protection Regulation do not exist. At the same time, the company claims to be resistant to official "censorship" in that - unlike its competitors - it hardly ever moderates or deletes the content of its users, even if it represents obvious discrimination or even criminal offences in individual countries.

All these characteristics seem to have made Telegram an attractive communication venue for actors of the extreme right in the US and Europe. But other communities, which for various reasons prefer a certain "state distance" in their public communication, also use the instant messaging service. In Germany, Telegram attracted a large number of users at the beginning of the Corona pandemic, from critics of the Corona policy and supporters of conspiracy narratives to openly right-wing extremist actors. Initial research findings also point to an increased relevance of the platform in the organisation of local protest events and mobilisation for them, whose thematic focus since the outgoing Corona pandemic is now directed at the domestic consequences of the Russian war of aggression against the Ukraine (inflation, high energy prices, etc.). In addition, there are indications of strategic networking with other national discourses as well as attempts to exert influence through targeted disinformation from abroad. Thus, it can be assumed that Telegram contributes significantly to the polarisation of the political public.
Call for Papers
For the M&K special issue, the editorial team welcomes articles that, for example:
  • Make a methodological contribution to Telegram research and open up the research field for other communication and social scientists,
  • Deal with ethical research questions on Telegram as a hybrid entity between private messaging and a public political discussion platform,
  • Deal with legal questions of Telegram's platform regulation through DSGVO, NEA, DSA and other relevant norms,
  • Gain insights into typical Telegram user groups using tools from research on attitudes,
  • examine communication content and networks with regard to the question of polarisation of the political public,
  • Take a look at the international interconnections of platform communication,
  • Carry out platform-comparative analyses (for instance, on communication on Twitter) as well as comparisons with mass media discourses,
  • Make the spread of information across platforms observable,
  • Examine the influence of (foreign) disinformation on political discourse,
  • Shed light on the connection between Telegram activities and protest events in local communities, or
  • Analyse business models of platform operators, advertisers and advertising target groups.
Colleagues who would like to contribute to this issue are asked to send an extended abstract of their manuscript proposal to the editors by 15 December 2022 (max. 6,000 characters including spaces). Based on the abstracts, the editors will prepare a concept and invite the authors to submit a manuscript by the end of March 2023. They will decide on the acceptance of the manuscripts according to the usual review process of M&K.
Editorial Office Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft [Media & Communication Studies], Christiane Matzen, c.matzen@leibniz-hbi.de

Picture: Ümit Solmaz / Pixabay


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