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Little or nothing is known in recent years about the creator of Telegram, Pavel Durov. Only that he has become one of Russia’s richest men, is one of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs and his social network has now surpassed 500 million users.
“I thought that Durov didn’t exist, that he would be a myth,” said Rodión Chépel, director of the first documentary about the 36-year-old entrepreneur that can be seen in Russian cinemas.
Durov is very jealous of his privacy. He made his last public appearance in 2017 in Indonesia and a few days ago posted his first Instagram post in more than three years.
“He lives between Finland and Dubai,” Mikhail Klimariov, head of the Internet Protection Society, told EFE.
“Durov,” Chépel’s documentary, attempts to shed light on a figure much admired by Russian youth, much closer to the opposition leader, Alexei Navalni, than to the Kremlin’s gerontocracy.
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“I want to be an internet totem,” he told his teacher upon graduating from an elite high school in St. Petersburg, where the well-known mathematician Grigory Perelman also studied.
Durov, who was born in the former tsarist capital and lived in Italy for much of his childhood and adolescence, had it clear.
He took his first step into the digital world when he entered the faculty of English philology in St. Petersburg. He created a virtual library of students’ works so that they could be consulted by other students (Durov.com).
The creation of the Durov empire
With no time to lose, in 2006 he founded Vkontakte, the Russian Facebook, which quickly became the leading social network in Russia.
The problem is that VK’s influence was so great that it caught the attention of the Kremlin, presided over by a man of the analog era who is particularly wary of the Internet.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was his refusal to block at the request of the authorities the groups that organized the massive demonstrations against electoral fraud in 2011.
Under pressure, Durov eventually sold the platform in 2014 to friends of the Kremlin (mail.ru).
At the height of VK, according to the documentary, he launched paper airplanes made of dollar bills from the window of his office in Russia’s second city, a premonitory gesture, as a paper airplane is the symbol of Telegram.
With this encrypted messaging service, Durov took the leap to another dimension that would eventually lead him to exile.
Recently, Forbes magazine included him for the first time in the list of the ten richest men in Russia with a fortune of $17.2 billion, four times more than in 2020.
“Seeing the growth rates of his company, in a few years he will be the world leader in the sector,” predicts Chépel.
“Telegram’s biggest advantage is that it is a mix between social network and messaging platform. It is the most convenient to use and, in addition, it is a tool for receiving information,” explains Klimariov.
He insists that “there is no other application that has channels, which, in fact, are mass media,” to which must be added the possibility of monetizing them.
“I would compare him to Jack Dorsey,” confounder of Twitter, Klimariov stresses.
In mid-April, the Russian press reported that in two years Telegram plans to put 10-20% of its shares on the market.
“The fact that Durov retains 100 % of the shares differentiates him from other entrepreneurs in the sector. Going public in such a situation is unique,” Chépel explains.
Durov, the libertarian
At the time, Krimalyov was one of those who took part in 2018 in the resistance movement against the blocking of Telegram in Russia, which demanded from Durov the identity of users in the framework of the fight against terrorism.
“He never handed anyone over to the police,” noted Krimalyov, who maintains sporadic contacts with the businessman about the fight against certain controversial content on the Internet.
Durov defines himself as a libertarian, the creation of Telegram has become the preferred tool of the opposition from Belarus to Hong Kong.
Telegram is very safe for civil society, but it also has a moderation system that removes channels with dangerous information, whether linked to suicides, drug trafficking or extremism,
“Durov listens to his environment. These are complicated issues from a moral point of view,” explains Klimariov.
Breaking his silence
Durov broke his silence this week on Telegram to report that the network blocked within an hour the account of the assailant who killed nine people in a school shooting in the city of Kazan.
Such events “should not serve as an excuse for the organization of a witch hunt or for turning society into a concentration camp,” he warned.
Due to pressure from the Kremlin, Durov left Russia in 2014 with the intention of not returning. According to the documentary, from Neo he has become Morpheus, both characters from the movie “Matrix”.