Analysts of the Center for European Transformation have conducted a study on the use of telegram in Belarus and on how the courtyard and district chats are developing and what people discuss there.
Explosive growth since March
The authors note that for several years telegrams were not very popular in Belarus. This changed in 2019: popular channels appeared, the audience of the messenger began to grow. And since March 2020, "explosive growth" has been recorded.
It is thanks to the telegram coverage that the Belarusians "were from the very beginning better prepared for various kinds of Internet blocking, which began on August 9," the scientists say.
“Unfortunately, we do not have more recent studies on the characteristics of the Belarusian telegram audience. According to indirect data, in Belarus in mid-August 2020, there were about 2.4 million active messenger users (about 30-35% of the Internet audience). For months Telegram was the most downloaded application in Belarus (both on Android and iOS platforms). According to some data, as of September 2020, the messenger was used by about 60% of the urban Internet audience in Belarus," the authors of the work note.
The reason for this growth in the popularity of channels, researchers say, is not only the ability to quickly obtain information. The authorities also contributed to this by blocking many Belarusian media. The fact that on August 9-13 the messenger remained practically the only source of up to date information also played in favor of the telegram.
Among the channels that have over 100,000 subscribers, 14 fall in the category "news and entertainment". Five more belong to the Belarusian independent media. Incidentally, there is only one pro-government channel in the list of channels with over 100,000 subscribers.
"Rise of new districts"
In a study on the development of telegram chats, the authors refer to the data from the dze.chat site database.
There are about 1.1 thousand such groups. They have about 550 thousand non-unique users.
"In the total number of participants in local telegram groups (chats), a little less than half is based in Minsk. The most active are Minsk, Hrodna and Brest regions," the authors note.
There are chats not only in large cities. They can be found both in regional centers and in separate villages.
"Картина активности в локальных телеграм-группах (чатах) по Минску подтверждает характеристику протестного движения в Минске как "восстания новых районов"; хотя местные чаты создаются по всему городу, однако явно видны точки концентрации", — отмечают авторы.
Чаще всего, согласно анализу учёных, участники чатов обсуждают и координируют протестные действия. Также там идёт простое общение, знакомство и обсуждение других тем.
"Локальные телеграм-группы (чаты) всё больше выполняют функцию общения и поддержки "боевого духа", взаимной мотивации. Надо отметить, что большинство локальных чатов объединяет людей со схожими взглядами на текущую ситуацию", — пишут в заключении авторы.