August 1 (Mashable) – Telegram’s latest feature would be more exciting if the company actually did more to protect its users, and civilized society.
Telegram announced in a Friday blog post that group video calls will now allow up to 1,000 users to join and participate. There’s a much smaller limit on the number of participants who can share video from their camera or screen — it’s capped at 30 — but as many as 970 others are free to join the call and watch along.
The post also notes that Telegram isn’t quite finished expanding the total supported viewer count for video calls. “We will keep increasing this limit until all humans on Earth can join one group call and watch us yodel in celebration (coming soon),” the post reads (emphasis in original).
The expansion of group video call viewer counts comes just over a month after Telegram launched the feature initially. The new announcement also reveals a few other additions, including higher resolution video messages, as well as the ability to expand them; screen sharing for one-on-one calls; timestamp links; and more.
You can find a full rundown of all the details in Telegram’s announcement.
The expansion of group video calls is potentially a helpful thing for some users, but as with all things Telegram-related, this expansion of access to content sharing on the platform isn’t as exciting as it could be. That’s because Telegram takes a hands-off approach to policing the material shared in private chats.
The company’s FAQ page addresses this directly in a question: “There’s illegal content on Telegram. How do I take it down?” The response reads: “All Telegram chats and group chats are private amongst their participants. We do not process any requests related to them.”
The policy has all sorts of implications for the kinds of content that can be shared behind the proverbial closed doors of a private chat, with revenge porn in particular being a specific and publicly reported concern. And while there’s something of an understandable push-and-pull here — the tension between protecting people’s privacy versus keeping society safe — critics argue that there are more concrete steps Telegram could take.
As Mashable’s own Rachel Kraus wrote in a 2020 report, WhatsApp users have the ability “to report content and users to WhatsApp, which may disable accounts or share information with authorities.” The same kind of reporting feature also exists on Facebook, the company that owns WhatsApp. Facebook also says it uses automated technology to stop users from posting pornography in private groups.
Or take Discord, the Slack-like messaging service that lets anyone create a private group where they can share media and stream video. The company’s Trust & Safety team won’t snoop into private groups proactively, but user reports can spur that team to investigate those spaces. This can lead to users being banned and groups getting shut down.
So while the situation with Telegram isn’t without its complexities, it’s also refusing to take action on certain things in an environment where other, competing companies have done so. That’s why Rachel’s report is such a tough read; the path to preventing (or at least minimizing) the scenario she describes is right there, trailblazed by others. So it’s not so much that Telegram can’t fix the problem; it simply won’t.
That may or may not stop you from using Telegram, especially now with 1,000-viewer video calls opening the door to all kinds of remote gathering opportunities. Just make sure you go in with both eyes open, and — as always in our extremely online world — be very careful about what you share with people.