In April 2018, Russia’s telecom regulator Roskomnadzor blocked Telegram on the country’s territory. We knew it was coming, so by the time the block went live, we had already upgraded the Telegram apps with support for rotating proxy servers, ways to hide traffic and other anti-censorship tools. We were joined by thousands of Russian engineers that set up their own proxies for Telegram users, forming a decentralised movement called Digital Resistance.
The first week of the ban was challenging, and many of our users in Russia had connection issues. In an attempt to prevent users from accessing Telegram, Roskomnadzor blacklisted millions of IP addresses. However, thanks to Digital Resistance, after May 2018 Telegram became largely accessible in Russia.
As a result, Telegram’s user base in Russia hasn’t decreased – in fact, it has doubled since 2018. In May 2020, out of 400 million monthly active users of Telegram, at least 30 million were from Russia. It means that our growth in Russia has been in line with our growth in other countries. To put it simply, the ban didn’t work.
Last week, Roskomnadzor, which has a new director as of two months ago, decided to reflect reality by announcing that Telegram is no longer blocked in Russia. In their announcement, they referenced my June 4 message where I explained why the ban didn't make much sense.
This change should be welcomed – and I hope it will last. If it doesn’t, however, we hope few users will notice any difference.
Over the course of the last two years, we had to regularly upgrade our “unblocking” technology to stay ahead of the censors. I am proud of what we achieved – it is unique among social media apps.
We don’t want this technology to get rusty and obsolete. That is why we have decided to direct our anti-censorship resources into other places where Telegram is still banned by governments – places like Iran and China. We ask the admins of the former proxy servers for Russian users to focus their efforts on these countries. They should also stand ready for new challenges: as the political situation in the world becomes more unpredictable, more governments may try to block privacy-focused apps like Telegram.
The Digital Resistance movement doesn’t end with last week’s ceasefire in Russia. It is just getting started – and going global.