12.05.23 Review

In Russia, Telegram has become the primary Internet platform for young people, surpassing YouTube in reach and WhatsApp in average daily user time

According to a study conducted by Mediascope, by May 2023, the majority of young Internet users in Russia are on Telegram, making it the most in-demand platform for the country's youth. Two major boosts to its explosive growth in popularity came with the start of the war and the announcement of mobilisation in September 2022. In addition, Telegram is the most politicised social network: more than 40% of its channels are news-based, and around 17% are directly related to the war and Ukraine. Thanks to its rapid expansion and government censorship, Telegram has become one of the most important ways to receive news and the primary source of real-time information about the war, as well as the primary platform for public and political discussions.

By May 2023, Telegram had become the most popular Internet resource among Russians aged 12 to 24, with young users spending an average of one hour per day on the platform. Telegram combines messaging and social networking, and while it lags behind WhatsApp as a messenger app in terms of its overall Internet audience, it dominates among younger age groups: a quarter of Russian youth use Telegram exclusively, completely ignoring WhatsApp and other messaging apps. Additionally, Telegram boasts the largest young audience of any Internet resource, with 69% of the young people whose online behaviour was studied by Mediascope, the official Internet audience measurer appointed by Roskomnadzor, using the platform at least once a day.

Mediascope's study involved 20,000 mobile and 13,000 desktop devices owned by Russians over the age of 12 years residing in all regions of the country. The company collected data on user behaviour through a special application installed on these devices. Mediascope believes that data obtained in this way is more reliable than surveys and is a more accurate reflection of user preferences. The company previously measured TV audiences in the same manner. It is obvious that this technology leads to distortions on the other side: the more oppositional and generally politicised part of society will avoid voluntarily de-anonymising their online behaviour, and the obtained data should be considered with this caveat.

Regardless of age, the majority of study participants (62%) opened Telegram at least once a month, and 41% used it every day. Generally speaking, Russians spend 6% of their Internet time on Telegram. This is not a lot when compared to other Internet resources: according to the study, Russian users spend up to 19% of their Internet time on various social networks (‘VKontakte’, ‘Odnoklassniki’, Instagram), 18% on video resources, 16% on all messaging apps combined, and 10% on games.

Telegram surpassed YouTube in the top Internet resources (average daily reach), while WhatsApp led in terms of the daily user time spent on the application. Seven out of ten of the users studied by Mediascope accessed Telegram to read updates from various channels and spent about a third of their time on the platform doing so. According to Mediascope’s findings, Telegram is the most politicised network/messaging app, with 43% of its channels being characterised as news-related, 23% as political, and 17% directly related to the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, 25 of the 30 most popular Telegram channels are dedicated to news and politics, including coverage of the war in Ukraine. This focus on socially significant issues, rather than entertainment content, sets Telegram apart from other social networks.

Last spring was a time of explosive growth for Telegram. According to Mediascope, from February to March 2023, its daily reach increased by 10%, while the average daily time spent on the platform rose from 28 to 33 minutes. Telegram usage increased even further after the announcement of mobilisation, with daily time spent on the app reaching 37 minutes in September 2022. Surveys conducted by the Levada Center confirm the growing popularity of Telegram: since March 2022, there has been a twofold increase in the number of times respondents mention Telegram channels as their main source of news in Russia and around the world. Telegram has also benefited from the blocking of other social networks by the Russian government, which occurred around the same time. According to Brand Analytics, in the six months following the start of the restrictions on other sites (February to September 2022), Telegram demonstrated record growth: the number of daily active authors on the platform increased by 58%, while the growth of daily published content reached 24%.

In March 2023, according to a survey by the Levada Center, 41% of respondents aged 18-24 and 26% of those aged 25-39 identified Telegram as their source of news. Another factor contributing to Telegram's growing popularity and significance in Russia has been state censorship. As a result, it has become the main source of real-time news about the war and the main platform for uncensored discussion. However, Telegram's popularity has not gone unnoticed by the authorities: Re:Russia has already written about their attempts to take over the platform and gain control over its most popular segments. For this reason, data on the audience figures of many channels should not be trusted, as Telegram is flooded with bots. According to specialist research, approximately 40% of messages on Telegram are the result of bot activity.