Is Telegram a “harbinger of freedom”? The performance, practices, and perception of platforms as political actors in authoritarian states
Mariëlle Wijermars and Tetyana Lokot
Post-Soviet Affairs
School of Communications

Successive events have shown us that social media and politics are deeply intertwined.

Social media platforms such as Telegram are generally viewed as a space to express discontent, or a tool that enables citizens to mobilise. In reality, the reputation or public framing of a platform or technology can also shape how it is perceived and used.

DCU researcher Tetyana Lokot’s latest research argues that digital platforms themselves should be understood as actors with agency who participate in contentious politics and can shape the outcomes of political transformations. 

Co-authored with the University of Maastricht’s Marielle Wijermars, the paper examines the practices, performance, and perceptions of the messaging platform Telegram as an actor in the 2020 Belarus protests. It uses publicly available data from Telegram’s public statements, protest-related Telegram groups, and media coverage.

Developing a novel conceptualization of ‘platform actorness,’ we critically assess Telegram’s role in the protests and examine whether Telegram is seen as playing an active role in Belarusian contentious politics. Meanwhile, the Belarusian state uses Telegram’s aversion to censorship and content moderation to intervene in contentious politics by co-opting grassroots approaches and mimicking manipulative efforts of other authoritarian regimes.