What's going on? 14:34 05 Apr 2024

Ukrainian parliament wants to regulate Telegram messenger: why is it necessary, and what are the proposed changes?

Telegram messenger has become the primary news resource for Ukrainians. Rubryka's piece explains why the state believes this is a problem, what solutions officials propose, and whether it is really possible.

On March 25, the Ukrainian parliament registered a draft law that should regulate the activities of Telegram channels that position themselves as media in Ukraine.

Similar ideas, from regulation to a complete radical ban on Telegram, have periodically been heard since the beginning of Russia's war in Ukraine. Their supporters' most important arguments are fakes that can be quickly distributed to large audiences on Telegram without any responsibility for them, the possibility of Russia conducting disinformation campaigns, and the fact that Telegram is a space for violations — discrimination, disregard for journalistic ethics, etc.

However, regulating a messenger that simultaneously exists as a social network turned out to be a difficult task.

What is the problem?

Telegram has become the main news resource for Ukrainians — 72% of respondents use the messenger to read news

Pavel Durov, the founder of the VKontakte social network that has been banned in Ukraine since 2017, founded Telegram after refusing to share the data of some Ukrainian VKontakte users with Russian security services. Then, under pressure, Durov sold his share in VK to Kremlin-friendly oligarchs for $300 million. The first version of the application appeared in 2013, and now, Telegram has about 900 million users. The company is located in Dubai and is worth about $30 billion.

Along with the application's appearance, the first Telegram channels began to appear. Users got used to this way of quickly receiving information: the news that comes as a personal message is convenient and fast, and it takes less than three seconds to read.

Currently, 82,000 Telegram channels are registered among Ukrainian users, 880,000 in the Russian Federation, and 154,000 in Uzbekistan. State authorities, political figures, activists, official media, NGOs, trading platforms, and state-owned enterprises have their own Telegram channels. Even Ukraine's president has his own Telegram channel.

Research by Internews Ukraine in 2023 showed that Telegram has become the main source of information for Ukrainians. 72% of Ukrainians use it as a platform for receiving news, and about 60% of those surveyed trust this source. However, neither Telegram as a platform nor the authors of Telegram channels, which may be anonymous, have media restrictions and are not responsible for the information disseminated.

The Telegram channel can be registered as online media, but there are questions about the platform itself


A year ago, on March 31, 2023, the law on media entered into force in Ukraine. This law expanded the powers of the National Council on Television and Radio Broadcasting and introduced new rules for the media. From now on, for the duration of martial law, all print and online media, video hosting sites, Facebook and Instagram pages, YouTube and Telegram channels, TikTok, WhatsApp, and Viber accounts must be registered with the National Council.

The problem with Telegram channels is that the owners can actually register the channel as online media because they fall under the definition of the term. Still, along with the benefit of registration, for example, the opportunity to obtain a journalistic certificate and receive government grants, they lose anonymity and gain media responsibility. The National Council can issue orders and fines for various violations, such as discrimination, refusal to conduct inspections, obscene language, etc. The National Council is also authorized to cancel the media registration and block it by court decision. Thus, due to a loophole in the legislation, although they must do it, the anonymous owner of the Telegram channel may not be registered as an online media and may not bear any responsibility for their activities.

Another issue with Telegram channels, and in general with news pages in social networks, is the separation of the platform, the social network itself, from the owners of channels, groups, and accounts. The law on media regulates that the National Council can enter into memorandums with these platforms regarding problematic issues and request that illegal content be removed or restricted for users from Ukraine. However, social networks have no obligations to the National Council. Therefore, the problem with anonymous Telegram channels remains. You can contact the management of the messenger to remove or limit something, but it is unlikely that the platform will be deeply concerned with the problems of Ukrainian content.

"In the case of Telegram, as with other platforms, the only way to close a channel is if Telegram itself blocks it. The National Council, according to Oleksandr Burmagin (member of the National Council — ed.), already contacted Telegram two or three times, but there was no response," says the Donbas Media Forum 2023 post-release.

What arguments did the lawmakers find against Telegram?

Officials have several more arguments against Telegram channels, which explain the need to regulate the relationship between the National Council and Telegram — as a provider, or in simple words — as a platform. 

  • The Telegram platform may be associated with an aggressor state, and Ukrainian authorities currently do not know who is part of the ownership structure of such platforms as Telegram. 

The president of the Russian Federation, the Russian Internet regulator Roskomnadzor, and other officials have openly stated this. In a joint statement on the protection of Ukraine's information space from Russian hostile Telegram channels, made by the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, the Security Service of Ukraine and other state bodies, it was directly stated that several channels on the Telegram platform are affiliated with Russian special services.

  • Lawmakers claim that the created privacy security problems allow the Russian Federation's state authorities to de-anonymize and monitor users. The memo refers to media publications with examples of how the platform's technology allows monitoring of Ukrainian officials.

In some cases, officials are prohibited from using Telegram due to the program's insecurity. Due to the use of Russian-affiliated platforms for espionage, Telegram is prohibited from being used by Norwegian government officials. This includes, among other things, the ban on installing relevant programs on computers and other devices used by employees. A similar condition is contained in the Rules of Conduct in Social Networks, which are part of the Methodological Recommendations for the Use of Social Networks in the Armed Forces of Ukraine: "refuse to use (…) messengers (Telegram) (…) of Russian production." Direct access to the database of social services with extreme ease allows Russian special services to discover the widest range of information that ordinary citizens and military personnel upload to social networks."

What is the solution?

What does the new draft law offer: deanonymization, open information about funding, the possibility of refuting information, and more


The bill envisages clarifying something in the law on media, namely:

  • The interpretation of some concepts has become more precise. It was clarified that any platform with pages, channels, and accounts that can distribute information to an indefinite circle of people is a shared access provider. Telegram also falls under this concept.
  • Legal requirements have been set for such platforms: open terms of use, user age verification, some restrictions on advertising, and others that previously only applied to video distribution platforms and are already prescribed in the law. It is important to be able to see the owner of the page and foresee the right (of the reader/subscriber) to respond and refute inaccurate information.
  • The provider (Telegram) must ensure the presence of its representative (representative office, legal entity, or natural person with a power of attorney) in Ukraine for communication.
  • At the request of the National Council, the provider must disclose the ownership structure and funding sources. If the National Council fails to carry out such an inspection, the structure of the provider (i.e., Telegram) will be recognized as non-transparent. Until now, only media could be defined as non-transparent in the media law, and this status entailed the cancellation of the media's license. Platforms will not be required to have such a license in the new bill, but the consequences will be different ➡️
  • State authorities, local self-government bodies, officials, financial service providers, and military formations do not have the right to use "non-transparent" platforms. Installing the specified platforms and related services on devices used for official purposes is also not allowed.

Will Telegram be blocked in Ukraine?

There were discussions about blocking Telegram more than once, the last being in February 2024 at one of the parliamentary committees. However, the Center for Countering Disinformation and Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council immediately disagreed with the hypothetical proposal.

The new project does not mention blocking Telegram either.

As for the technical possibility of blocking, it will be very difficult to do so, according to digital security expert Pavlo Belousov. Although several possible ways to limit or complicate the messenger's work in Ukraine still exist. For example, it is possible to try to block it, as it is currently with VK. It will cut off some part of the audience, but a simple use of VPN bypasses blocking. Try through the tech giants (Apple, Google) to remove Telegram from the application stores, which will also slightly reduce the audience and make it difficult for new users to come in. However, on Android, it is possible to install an application bypassing the Play Market, and with certain problems — even outside the App Store. Plus, there is still a web version of Telegram, which can be accessed with a VPN through a desktop or mobile browser. It's inconvenient, but it solves the problem.

By the way, the expert was just as skeptical about the possible pressure on Telegram, in particular, the blocking of certain channels:

"If Telegram agrees to a representative office in Ukraine (which I doubt), potentially, it would be possible to put pressure on them or block certain channels because the channel can only be blocked from the inside. It turns out that there are not many technical possibilities, and something alone will not give the maximum effect. However, something can influence or potentially attract Telegram's attention and lead to cooperation with the authorities," Belousov summarized.

How does Telegram react when someone's rights are violated within the platform?

The new draft law has already caused a stir in the Ukrainian media. Although it still has to go through the corridors of parliamentary committees, hearings, and discussions, in case of adoption (for everything to work), the "providers" referred to in the document must react to the law and adapt to the new rules. However, they may well not do this because Ukraine has no levers of pressure on the company located in Dubai, like other countries that also have problems with this platform.

The case in August 2023 in Iraq, where the authorities blocked Telegram at the request of state security agencies, is illustrative. At the time, the Iraqi Ministry of Communications reported that the body had appealed to the Telegram company with a demand to close channels that merge data of official state institutions and personal data of citizens, but the company did not respond to any of the requests. However, the ban on Telegram was short-lived, and the messenger was unblocked within a week. This happened after the Telegram company responded to the request, expressed "full readiness to communicate with the relevant authorities," and disclosed the data on the persons who leaked personal data to the Iraqi authorities.

They are fighting Telegram in their own way in Italy as well. If Ukraine's main complaint against the platform is possible Russian control and Russian fakes, the Italians have a problem with the distribution of pirated content. Channels published PDF copies of paid newspapers, violating the copyright of journalists. The police have been fighting them since 2019, but as of 2022, similar channels (albeit in much smaller numbers) still existed. In only a small number of cases, the controlling authorities succeeded in blocking pirate channels from the Telegram company; however, even in three years, the goal of the operation was not achieved.

In early March, the Telegram company received a list of potentially problematic channels from the Ukrainian authorities. The platform's representative, Remy Wong, commented to NV that the company is currently analyzing the list of channels.

"We are currently studying it [the list] and will take action against any content that violates Telegram's terms of service," Wong stressed.

However, the company representative did not specify who exactly provided this list or which channels are included in it. At the same time, Wong noted that Telegram is a safe messenger for Ukrainians and users in other countries and was specially created to protect users from Russian surveillance.

Since the draft law was registered, there has been no reaction on Pavel Durov's or Telegram's official channels regarding the regulation of messengers.

Potential dangers in the information space remain, and the best advice for users of any social network is to be critical of information and check the reliability of primary sources.


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