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Extracting and analysing disinformation data from Telegram with Telepathy

The Russian disinformation landscape

As the war in Ukraine continues, Telegram has undoubtedly become a primary source of on-the-ground reporting of Russian activity in near real-time. On the other side of the coin, pro-Russian and pro-invasion disinformation actors have taken to Telegram by establishing a significant number of accounts aimed at producing and circulating disinformation aimed at countering the Ukrainian narrative. These Russian disinformation channels and groups all have the same modus operandi, each will circulate content among each other and encourage subscribers and group members to redistribute false content on pro-Ukrainian channels and groups. So, with Telegram becoming a central focus in the information war, OSINT and disinformation analysts require effective tools to be able to acquire data concerning sources of disinformation and analyse the spread of false content.

What is Telepathy, and what does it do?

This is not the first time we at OS2INT have written about Telepathy. However, considering that Jordan Wildon, the talented developer behind Telepathy, has released the second version of the tool, we felt it absolutely necessary to produce another article and video to explain the tool and the awesome capabilities it provides. So, what is Telepathy?

Scraping disinformation data from Telegram

In our view, it is the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of Telegram tools – whilst version 1 had awesome capabilities in itself, version 2 is most certainly on another level. Telepathy is a Python-utility that provides the user with several data scanning / acquisition options including:

  • Target (Chat / Group): This is the default basic scan which will find the title, description, number of participants, username, URL, chat type, chat ID, access hash, first post date and any applicable restrictions to the chat. For group chats, Telepathy will also generate a CSB-based memberlist (up to 5,000 members).
  • Comprehensive: This option will retrieve the same information as the basic scan, but will also archive a chat’s message history.
  • Forwards: This option will scan for messages that have been forwarded into a target channel/group, then create a CSV-based edgelist that can subsequently be analysed via a third-party data visualisation tool.
  • Media: This option will archive all media in a target channel / group alongside a comprehensive scan. Understandably, this process may take some time based on the amount of media contained within a channel / group.

Why Telepathy is your ‘go-to’ utility

It cannot be said enough – Telepathy has amazing capabilities and is reliably efficient in the way it operates. Unlike other Telegram-based utilities, it writes data to CSV output files asynchronously – this means that if you are rate-limited by Telegram during a data acquisition process, the data is not lost. Also, the utility’s output is very straightforward and not over-complicated, this means that CSV files generated during the data acquisition process can be easily processed into a data visualisation utility quickly and effectively. Lastly, Telepathy has been developed by a very talented person who has indicated upcoming features currently in development. All too many times, OSINT tools are developed and often abandoned – but this is most certainly not the case with Telepathy!

Installation and Deployment

Telepathy can be installed either by invoking pip install telepathy, or alternatively (as in our case) we manually closed the tool from the Github repository and installed it by invoking python3 setup.py install via the command line interface. Instructions regarding the use of the tool can be easily read on the tool’s Github repository. At the first run, the utility will prompt the user to input their Telegram API details.

Data analysis

During each scan, Telepathy will indicate the Telegram user ID’s most active on each channel / group. However, for OSINT and disinformation analysts looking to do a more comprehensive analysis of Telegram data, the outputs generated by Telepathy can be easily visualised using third-party applications such as Gephi.

Scraped data from Telegram of pro-Russian disinformation groups

However, considering that we wanted to analyse interactions across several scraped disinformation groups whilst also analysing memberlists and forward lists, we opted to use the Chat Analytics capabilities of Paliscope YOSE. If you are – like us – scraping from multiple groups, and you require the capability to isolate particular Telegram users in order to identify content that they have been posting – then YOSE is the solution you need. Considering that the channels and groups we scraped from were all in Russian, we then made use of the Offline Translation module that is integrated into YOSE – this took care of that issue for us!

Analysing Telegram chat data with Paliscope YOSE

Taking our analysis even further, we took our member and forward edgelists and dropped them into YOSE, enabling us to visually look at Telegram IDs that were members of multiple groups. Then, we analysed the spread of messages being forwarded from other sources of pro-Russian and pro-invasion disinformation sources, enabling us to identify additional groups and channels that we can analyse even further.

Analysing relationships between pro-Russian disinformation groups on Telegram

What more can be said!?

Overall, Telepathy is undoubtedly the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ of Python-based OSINT tools for Telegram. Easily install, seamless configuration, and effective results – this tool is a must-have for any OSINT and disinformation analyst that is keeping a close eye on sources of pro-Russian and pro-invasion disinformation on Telegram. Whilst collecting data is one thing, analysing the data is the most crucial step. This is why we opted to use YOSE’s capability to analyse and visualise interaction data and relationships between Telegram users, channels, and groups.

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