This CREST report investigates the impact of two Action Days geared towards meaningfully disrupting jihadist networks on Telegram, conducted by Europol in 2018 and 2019.

In October 2018 and November 2019, Europol conducted two Action Days geared towards meaningfully disrupting jihadist networks on Telegram – a social media platform favoured by groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda.

This paper aims to understand the impact of the 2018 and 2019 Europol Action Days – first, what they meant for the health and size of said jihadist networks on Telegram and second, how they impacted on the phenomenon of migration to other platforms. It does this by interrogating a dataset containing 7.8 million Telegram posts collected from 1,911 jihadist channels and groups.

Key findings

Overall, the 2019 intervention was found to have had a profound impact on the number of jihadist posts (and, indeed, jihadists posting) on Telegram. Further, its impact was not short-term or temporary but continued into the time of writing.

By contrast, the 2018 disruption effort had only a modest impact on the jihadist ecosystem on Telegram, though in the aftermath of this Action Day the dissemination of outlinks – that is, links to other file-sharing and social media platforms – increased.

The 2019 activity was found to have a profound impact both on the number of unique posts and forwarded posts generated by jihadists, as well as on their dissemination of outlinks. A significant and enduring drop in activity occurred in its aftermath.

Although many more new channels were created after the 2019 Action Day compared to the 2018 Action Day (105 compared to 12), the average lifespan of these channels was markedly different. Channels created in 2018 lasted for an average of 302 days with an average of 4.6 posts per day. By comparison, channels created in 2019 lasted for 14 days with an average of 56.8 posts per day. This reflects the fact that, in the latter case, disruptive pressure was sustained.

After the 2019 Action Day, jihadists increasingly experimented with both established and new platforms, including Twitter, Rocket.Chat, TamTam, nandbox, and Hoop Messenger.

Policy implications

Takedowns are effective when deployed in a coordinated and sustained fashion, coupled with real-world policing/intelligence initiatives. The 2019 Action Day combined online action with real-world enforcement led by national authorities.

The online space is likely to become more complex as the distinction between ‘groups/organisations’ becomes increasingly blurred when contrasted with ‘social movements.’ This is relevant not only in the context of the jihadist ideological current but also groups on the extreme left and right of the political spectrum.