Telegram is a key platform for sharing audiovisual media that document human rights abuses – whether it is captured by officials, bystanders, journalists, activists, or perpetrators and their supporters. For example, it has been widely used by news outlets and officials in Ukraine to share information, by activists in Hong Kong to communicate and organize, and also by far-right politicians and disinformation spreaders in Brazil and the military junta in Myanmar to track and dox opponents. Many attribute Telegram’s widespread use/misuse to its large group size limits (maximum 200,000 participants vs. only 256 in WhatsApp), and the app’s reluctance to moderate or remove content.

Telegram is also somewhat unique among chat apps and social media platforms for making it easy for senders to share original media with its original metadata, strengthening its usefulness as evidence. Because of the volume of media with potential value as evidence, it can be useful to know how to export larger batches of media and related chat text from a chat or channel. 

The guidance below applies to media shared on channels, public and private group chats, and non-secret chats. It does not work for secret chats, which have extra layers of protection and do not sync with Telegram Desktop. Channels, public and private group chats, and non-secret chats are backed up on Telegram’s servers, and do not have the same security features as secret chats.

Be aware of the risks of vicarious or secondary trauma when working with distressing content, and set up a plan before you start

Batch Exporting Media from Telegram 

You can export videos from channels, public and private group chats, and non-secret chats in batches on a computer using Telegram Desktop’s Export Chat History feature:

Export Chat History button in Telegram

Mac users: Export Chat History is only available on the version of Telegram Desktop available on the website, NOT in the version available through the Apple App Store.

You can also export chat histories under Settings > Advanced on Telegram Desktop:

Advanced Settings window in Telegram

Telegram’s Export feature provides options for batch exporting by type, maximum file size, and date range:

Chat Export Settings window in Telegram

You can choose HTML or JSON as formats for the chat text:

Choose Export Format window in Telegram

Which text format should I choose?

Choosing HTML: This will give you the chat history with formatting tags that will allow you to present the exported chat visually in a browser:

Excerpt of HTML code exported from Telegram
HTML document as text.
Excerpt of a Telegram HTML file viewed in a browser
HTML viewed in a browser.

Choosing JSON: This will give you a chat history with tagged metadata, but without formatting tags, that you can view or machine-process as plain text.

Excerpt from a Telegram JSON document
JSON document.

Preserving the relationship between media and chat text

HTML and JSON chat histories will only indicate the filename of attached media if you export the media with the text:

Excerpt from Telegram JSON document
Chat history “photo” tag when photo is exported with the text.
Excerpt from Telegram JSON document
Chat history “photo” tag when photo is not exported with the text.

If you want the filenames included in the chat history, check off the media elements when you export:

Chat Export Settings window in Telegram

Receiving Original-Quality Media on Telegram

Unlike media shared on most social media, Telegram has options for sending media in its original quality and with its original metadata (up to 2GB file size limit).

Why is un-recompressed media useful?

Media stays at its highest audiovisual quality and fidelity when it is not altered from its original state. When media is compressed (specifically, in ways that are “lossy”), data is eliminated to reduce file size or transformed into another format. This can result in degradation and introduce artifacts.

Side by side comparison of photo quality
The original photo (left) is higher quality than the compressed copy received from Telegram (right).

Media files also contain metadata about themselves. A camera original video file, for example, usually contains metadata such as the date/time and location where the video was created. This information is useful for verifying that the events captured in the video occurred at a particular time or place. Metadata from Telegram videos has been used, for example, to refute Russian sources who claimed that videos showed Ukrainian soldiers on Russian soil  as justification for its invasion; the metadata showed they were actually in Eastern Ukraine.

Metadata from video file
Some of the metadata from a camera original file.

Android

Ask the sender to send the media with the “Send without compression” option selected:

Send without compression button

Telegram chat in Android
Top message sent with compression, bottom message without compression.

iPhone

Ask the sender to send the media as a “File” instead of “Photo or Video.” Media sent as “file” will be sent as original file:

Telegram attach file window in iPhone

Telegram chat window on iPhone
Top message sent as “video,” bottom message sent as “file.”

Computer

By default, videos sent from Telegram Desktop will not be re-compressed. There is nothing the sender needs to do.  

For still photos, ask the sender to uncheck the “Compress images” option:

Compress Images checkbox in Telegram Desktop

Telegram Desktop window
Top photo sent with “Compress images” checked, bottom photo with “Compress images” unchecked.

Also check out these useful guides from other organizations:

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