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Telegram app search investigative journalism
Telegram app search investigative journalism

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Tipsheet: Latest Tools for Investigating with Telegram

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Cross-platform messaging service Telegram now has more than 900 million monthly active users — on track to hit one billion before the end of 2025. It has become a hub for visual evidence for conflicts, but also for illicit activity, extremist groups, and disinformation. Still, it’s a vital resource for people sharing information from war and conflict zones such as Ukraine and Gaza — and for journalists covering them.

Because Telegram, unlike other social media platforms, doesn’t limit or censor graphic content or violence, it’s a go-to platform for getting information out quickly. “Right now, Telegram gives [journalists] the most amount of data… of any social media network,” said investigative journalist and disinformation expert Jane Lytvynenko during a Telegram training webinar for the International Fact-Checkers Network. “It’s starting to occupy the same space in disinformation and overall online investigations research now as Twitter did circa 2014.”

Lytvynenko has been a leader in using Telegram as a reporting resource for award-winning investigations — for example, in this Wall Street Journal investigation of the secret Russian network stealing grain in Ukraine. She also trains journalists to use Telegram to find sources, monitor communities, track events, find video, audio, and documents, verify content — and how to keep themselves and their sources secure. (She was also the instructor for GIJN’s Cyber Investigations training course.)

Telegram’s rapid growth means reporters, investigators, and fact-checkers need to become fluent in searching and analyzing the platform — and there is a growing list of tools and search engines designed to collect and analyze Telegram data that can help open source investigators and journalists.

Telegram Tools 

Telegram has four communication functions: chats, group chats (with up to 100,000 members), channels (similar to a Twitter feed and generally one-way communication), and bots. There is no algorithmic amplification: posts are chronological, and there is no central news feed.

Warning: Telegram is very lightly moderated, and there are security and privacy risks to using the platform. Messages are not automatically end-to-end encrypted — you have to open a “secret chat” to start an encrypted chat with somebody. “If you’re working with sources on Telegram, my number one recommendation is to take sources off Telegram as quickly as possible,” said Lytvynenko. Try to move to Signal or WhatsApp, or use the secret chat function if you can’t. Lytvynenko added: “Treat all information on Telegram as unverified until proven otherwise.”

(Read a primer on Telegram here, and about Telegram security best practices here.) 

TelepathyDBVersions of this tool — which collects and archives Telegram data, makes it searchable, and analyzes it — have been around for a while as an open source toolkit on the GitHub platform developed for journalists, investigators, lawyers, and researchers. The latest version, now available in open beta, is a web app that removes the need for more complex technical skills.

Developer Jordan Wildon, a programmer, digital investigator, and former journalist who analyzed disinformation and extremism, told GIJN that Telepathy’s newest iteration was years in the making, created “in response to a huge need — to better understand the huge amount of data on Telegram, to collect it, to analyze connections, and also to visualize the data.”

This version, he said, takes away the hard work of manually collecting and archiving data and making it searchable, and makes it more accessible for users to delve deeper into how posts are shared and viewed.

TelepathyDB draws on a huge — and constantly expanding  — database of Telegram channels and groups. “If you were to search for everything ever said about Putin on Telegram, it will show you that data,” said Wildon. This includes graphs showing the number of messages mentioning “Putin” over time (or a time period you select), total page views, total engagement with the posts/messages, top languages — and many other layers, and you can download the data.

Other bells and whistles in Telepathy’s data analysis: being able to search message text; to see how channels are linked; to geolocate and identify where certain topics are being talked about and find nearby users in a specific location; see how documents have been shared; and where posts have been forwarded. The dedicated reverse image search function for Telegram can show other posts that have used the same image, and allows you to search by text in documents.

Investigations that have used data from Telepathy, said Wildon, include this Wall Street Journal investigation on the Wagner Group (which used Telepathy data via Paliscope, a Nordic software company) and this in-depth World Jewish Congress report on antisemitic radicalization online (which used Telepathy data directly).

TelepathyDB has a free, community version and a paid, or Pro, version. A free trial is also available.

TelepathyDB data screen

A sample TelepathyDB search results page for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Image: Screenshot, TelepathyDB

Telemetrio Ukraine-based Telemetrio is a huge (and claims to be the largest) catalog of Telegram channels and groups from all over the world. It was developed for marketers to track ad performance and analyze competitors on Telegram, but it’s useful for investigative journalists for its search functionality, channel statistics, and more.

This service requires a sign-in, but Lytvynenko suggests using a throwaway Google account — it doesn’t have to link to a Telegram account. Pricing tiers span from free to US$38/month and custom prices for 3+ users. The free tier is still useful for searching for key terms that appear in Telegram posts — sufficient for finding new channels or specific incidents. A paid tier enables more granular searches, explained Lytvynenko, such as by language, by category (although she warns that many channels are miscategorized), by country, and even by channels that are banned on Telegram. (The Wired investigation, Telegram Bans on Extremist Channels Aren’t Really Bans, looks at the platform’s soft enforcement of bans and outlines other methodologies of finding supposedly banned channels.)

Other useful channel analytics include tracking incoming and outgoing mentions, which you can use to find other channels but can also tell you a lot about a channel’s purpose and motivation. The Overview function can reveal, through a graph of the channel’s history and subscriber numbers, key events that led to a channel subscriber spike. The About section tells you what date a channel was launched but also what time, so you can check its launch against news events. It also shows all previous channel descriptions, revealing whether it has changed and how.

You can also use Telemetrio to search for Telegram ads. However, the free tier only gives you the top three ads in a search result — for a deep dive you’ll need the paid version. Lytvynenko explained to GIJN that Telegram ads are useful for journalists for the same reasons that ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Google are — they are key to understanding how disinformation on social media works and how audiences are targeted. What ads a channel hosts is also instructive.

TGStat — One of the largest repositories of Telegram channels and Telegram group statistics and metrics, GStat’s database includes around 1.7 million channels and groups classified by country, language, and category. You can look up Telegram’s use by country, daily new users, post reaches, topic mentions, and ad analytics. But: TGStat now asks users to log in to see some of its data. It is a Russia-based tool, and Lytvynenko advises to “strongly avoid” logging in with your Telegram channel — it’s not clear what kind of data gathering it does. Use a throwaway Telegram account instead. It is, however, still useful for its catalog features, and you don’t have to sign in to see that data. You can search by country, channel, posts, key terms — and even by emoji. It has free and paid tiers for its analytics service. — Shows Telegram’s “top” channel listings by number — such as which channel got the most new subscribers in the last hour or 24 hours, which channel currently has the top views per post, etc. This is useful when monitoring or covering breaking news situations when certain channels might spike in popularity, depending on the news and type of event.

Telegram-focused search engines: There are various search engines designed to search the platform, which tend to all work the same way — enter key terms or topics to search Telegram for related groups and channels.

  • Lyzem — A search engine for Telegram and Telegraph, a tool that allows users to make richly formatted posts to publish/share on Telegram.
  • TgramSearch — Telegram channel search.
  • — An English-language Telegram channel search.
  • — A Google-based custom search engine for Telegram.
  • “Osint Me” — A Google-based custom search engine for Telegram.

GeogramintA GitHub-hosted open source tool that uses Telegram’s Application Programming Interface (API) to find nearby users, channels, and groups — essentially, to conduct location-based searches and track real-time locations. But it can be tricky to install and requires some knowledge of code or help from developers.

Social LinksAlso hosted on GitHub, and uses Maltego — link analysis software for cyber investigations — to map connections between channels. Knowledge of code is also helpful for installing and using it.

List of Telegram limitsA regularly updated reference for basic Telegram numbers — such as character limits for usernames and bios; self-destruction periods for lack of use; chat participant limits, and so on.

Tip: To check whether a phone number or username is on Telegram, type and the phone number — — into your URL (you will need the country code). If that number is on Telegram, the chat will open. If you’ve found a certain username on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram and want to check whether the same username exists on Telegram, enter into your URL.

Editor’s Note: This tipsheet on Telegram tools was adapted and expanded from Jane Lytvynenko’s “Digging into Telegram” training webinar for the International Fact-Checkers Network on April 4, 2024.

Alexa van Sickle is an associate editor for GIJN and a journalist and editor with experience across online and print journalism, book publishing, and think tanks. Before joining GIJN, she was senior editor for the foreign correspondence magazine Roads & Kingdoms. 

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