Top Image: Stephanie Lee / RICE File Photo
Heads up for all the Luddites out there: There’s a new tech trend in town.
It’s in the title I know, but it’s not what you think.
We all know what public Telegram channels are made for: Deals, tips and news. Maybe the occasional anti-vaxxer discussion echo chamber. But according to the company, the app is designed for broadcasting public messages to large audiences, for organizations and public figures to reach an unlimited number of people.
But in typical Gen Z fashion, we have once again disregarded the original purpose of something and made it our own (See: Bondee rooms being turned into Jollibee or places of worship).
Gen Zs are now using Telegram channels as their own personal diary, or a newsletter of sorts—me included. Contrary to what they were intended for, these personal channels are private, and only have a handful of subscribers.
They are usually created for a specific purpose—mine was to document my time as an exchange student in Hong Kong. And I would use it throughout the day, posting my food, photo dumps, rants about rude waiters. Anything at all.
Channel functions, like reactions and a comment section, allow everyone in my curated and very dedicated audience of 19, to tell me exactly what they feel about the mundane things I post.
It’s like messaging your friends, but all of them at once.
We All Want Some TLC
I first came across these blog-style Telegram channels in early 2020 within the local K-Pop fandom. People were sharing their Telegram channel links in group chats with their Twitter acquaintances, and honestly, I didn’t get it.
Something about it just rubbed me the wrong way. It felt narcissistic and attention-seeking. Like an obsession with wanting to be famous, demanding attention from my friends. And I’m definitely not the only one.
“It’s the notion of everybody wanting to be a celebrity,” says Jake*, a 22-year-old first-year university student. He’s also a Telegram channel sceptic.
“I think people crave attention, whether consciously or not. Feeling like a celebrity is a way of validating that people care about you.”
But after experiencing it for myself, I realised that it doesn’t matter. My friends want to be there.
I have friends who told me they would never set up their own channel. But they enjoy being subscribers. The whole reason I set mine up was that a friend was dissatisfied with the sparse updates on my Instagram and wanted more.
And we are, after all, social beings. There’s no shame in admitting that some validation and attention is nice sometimes.
Jake acknowledges that Telegram channels are comparatively genuine compared to other social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, where people seem more interested in chasing clout.
“I guess it’s a good middle ground because your audience consists of people who care.”
There’s a reason BeReal hit a chord with the audience the way it did. If you missed the whole BeReal hype train, the social media platform notifies users during the same two minutes in a day to capture a photo and upload it. No VSCO filters, no fake curation.
The app aims to encourage people to be more realistic in the images they upload, instead of filtering and selecting only the good ones.
After going viral in late 2022, it wracked up 73.5 million installations worldwide. But it clearly resonates with audiences worldwide about the yearning for authenticity in our social media platforms.
Telegram channels achieve the same kind of authenticity Gen Zs crave. No filters, no retakes, just a straight transfer from thoughts to text. Real-time in-the-moment kind of updates.
As a messaging platform, Telegram also gears you to express yourself in a stream of consciousness. It’s text-heavy, unlike Instagram or TikTok. And let’s be honest, Twitter has gone to shit these days.
Whatever I’m feeling, be it happiness, confusion or anger, my day can be freely documented in my channel in a word, a phrase, a sentence, or a rant-y paragraph.
I don’t have to post a random picture in my photo album just for me to cover it with a paragraph of text or write long threads over multiple tweets to complete a thought. Telegram is fast, immediate—and real.
Privacy Is Key
Growing up online, Gen Zs are used to addressing large audiences and being in the public eye. Maybe this resulted in a need for an online space for their more intimate relationships, a separation between their public and private spheres.
This isn’t a new concept—Instagram spam accounts (or ‘Finstas’, but nobody calls them that) exist for a reason.
Compared to Instagram ‘main’ accounts, where there is societal pressure to keep up appearances, Telegram allows users to present an unfiltered version of themselves to a more curated audience. There is more vulnerability and a sense of closeness for the smaller circles that they allow onto these platforms.
Unlike Instagram, where the information is a free-for-all for anyone who is interested, Telegram channels direct your messages straight to your friends’ phones. It’s an experience, personalized to a whole new level.
Channels are also usually created with a specific purpose. For example, in my circles, most of my friends use their channel for updates from their overseas exchange programme.
This means that the type of information coming through these channels is even more streamlined and tailored. It’s like how some people create new Instagram accounts specifically for their art or for their photos.
Contextualized and personal. Private yet public. Perfect for Gen Zs.
Do We Need More Apps?
As a social media native, I doubt that Telegram channels will overtake or completely replace any other platform. It just feeds the needs of Gen Z that no other platform can address right now.
Locket, BeReal, and now Bondee, it’s hard to balance the chronic need to constantly let everyone know what they’re doing, and the need for intimacy and authenticity.
But Gen Zs do it well. They will continue to edit, customize and reinvent whatever they can to achieve that. But for me, with whatever new viral social media app comes along, my Telegram channel is good enough for me.