Update > Messaging Apps and Its Use in Politics

Messaging Apps and Its Use in Politics


WhatsApp, Messenger, Telegram, Signal, and Viber are all popular messaging apps that offer users a range of features and capabilities. They all allow people to send written and audio messages, make audio and video calls, and share media files. Users are also allowed to form chat groups, which have become very popular.

Telegram and Viber also have a popular feature where influential people like politicians, journalists, activists, or media houses can create channels where people can follow them.

WhatsApp and Messenger are both owned by Meta, the parent company of Facebook. Telegram and Signal are popular among users who prioritize security because of their strong encryption.

Telegram popular on political and other news

In Myanmar, Messenger and Viber were the most popular messaging systems before the coup. These days Telegram has become the most popular channel because people are looking for messaging platforms which are easy to use and secure. There are more than 54 million Telegram users in Myanmar.

In early 2021, the pro-democratic movement started using Telegram to spread their news within the movement. But it is not only them: Telegram is very popular among the private sector, as well as the junta and its supporters.[1] Myanmar military supporters have been using the Telegram messaging platform as an alternative to continue posting their propaganda after Meta (previously known as Facebook) banned the Myanmar military and its online outlets from its platform. Telegram has a relatively weak content moderation policy that allows spreading all kinds of information easily. Telegram has, however, banned some pro-military accounts[2]. The military junta has been reported to arrest people criticizing the junta on Telegram[3]. There have been also reports of The other messaging platforms are not that popular in Myanmar, at least not in politics. Signal works one-to-one, and while WhatsApp and Viber allows subscribers to follow channels, there is no interaction with the channels. As Telegram allows users to comment on channels, it has become very popular forum for debates and also for hate speech.

The new legislation allows the junta to arrest and punish those who speak out against them also on messaging platforms, but in actuality no one has been arrested for spreading messages using messaging platforms.

Activism and privacy concerns

Globally, many social activists and movements coordinate their work and call people to attend rallies and events using messaging apps rather that more public social media channels like Facebook and Twitter/X. For example, in Malaysia massive amounts of people took part in pro-democracy Bersih rallies between 2011 and 2016, organized in big part in messaging apps with end-to-end encryption.[4]

However, encryption does not always guarantee privacy.

WhatsApp has a feature to easily share messages from one conversation to others, which may cause security concerns. Also, it is easy to take screen captures or even photographs or messages and share them either privately or publicly in other social media platforms. In Kenya, for example, this common habit has led to multiple people being arrested for messages they thought were private.[5]

App policies

All the messaging platforms have policies which prohibit sharing of content that promotes hate speech, harassment, or illegal activities, some also ban fake news explicitly.

However, the attempts to curtail harassment, fake news, rumours and other misinformation have not been successful, and these spread rapidly in these popular messaging apps with little content control.


[1] Radio Free Asia: Myanmar junta using social media to track its opponents, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/social-media-03032022175020.html

[4] Johns, A., & Cheong, N. (2019). Feeling the Chill: Bersih 2.0, State Censorship, and “Networked Affect” on Malaysian Social Media 2012–2018. Social Media + Society, 5(2). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305118821801

[5] Ooko, Gloria Anyango. 2023. "In Pursuit of a “Safe” Space for Political Participation: A Study of Selected WhatsApp Communities in Kenya" Journalism and Media 4, no. 2: 506-529. https://doi.org/10.3390/journalmedia4020032