ALBUQUERQUE, NM — First it was Myspace, then Facebook, then Snapchat, and now ODA executives say drug dealers are using Telegram to sell drugs in New Mexico.
ODA Deputy Commander Kyle Hartsock warned against enforcement at a first-of-its-kind summit on the fentanyl crisis on Thursday.
“I’m warning you guys right now, the app we’re seeing now is Telegram,” he said.
Telegram is not a new app. It was launched in 2013 and has since gained over 500 million users worldwide. Law enforcement says the app is only gaining popularity in the United States.
The cloud-based messaging app is similar to the popular Whatsapp, but Telegram focuses more on large group chats. Telegram offers end-to-end encryption that prevents third parties from seeing messages in chat rooms. Hartsock suggests that these privacy features make it easier to buy and sell illegal drugs, including fentanyl.
“They could post pictures of it, videos of it, a price list, and then they’ll put all the drug dealing on the app,” he said.
Hartsock also disclosed that the app was linked to other violent crimes in Albuquerque, including a homicide and child exploitation.
During a panel on Thursday, Hartsock revealed that the app was not subject to any legal order or search warrants because it was not based in the United States. He also noted that the app was not designed for criminal activity. The app’s terms of service prohibit promoting violence, but Hartsock says social media companies don’t always monitor themselves.
“On paper, they are against it. Are they still empowered to shut it down completely? No, not necessarily,” he said.
As for children, Hartsock claims the app is no more dangerous than other social media platforms, including Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
“Don’t focus so much on Telegram,” he said. “Focus on all the mediums that children use. This support could be the bus stop, by the way.
Hartsock recommends that parents expose themselves to the same media platforms their children use. He says he regularly messages his own children on Snapchat to better understand how they use the app.
“Don’t criminalize the phone or the app,” Hartsock said. “Know your kids better, gain their trust and talk to them about these things, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
KOB 4 has contacted Telegram for a comment on this story. We did not receive a response in return.