Hong Kong Protestors Flock to FireChat App Amidst Social Media Censorship

Sign-ups for the FireChat app have ballooned during Hong Kong's ongoing democracy protests. The app lets users chat without an Internet connection.

About 100,000 people in Hong Kong downloaded FireChat within 22 hours, reports TechinAsia. The messaging app uses mesh networks to allow users to communicate with each other without Internet access or cell phone reception.

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have resulted in record levels of social media censorship in China. From the South China Morning Post:


Weiboscope, a site that tracks censored posts on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter), shows the government’s heavy-handed censorship tactics. Photos that had been taken down from the micro-blogging platform include images of the Hong Kong protests, political protests from other countries and screenshots of text from organizers. Instagram was inaccessible in China after being flooded with images from the protests.

While censors have been blocking images of yellow ribbons associated with the movement, Facebook users have been changing their profile pictures to a graphic of a yellow ribbon to express solidarity with protestors.

L: An image proliferating in Facebook profile photos; R: An image from Sina Weibo that was deleted by censors

FireChat offers the demonstrators a mode of communication that the authorities can’t shut down. Gizmodo explains:

Mesh networks are like Voldemort after he split his soul into horcruxes (only not evil). Destroying one part won’t kill it unless you destroy each point of access; someone would have to turn off Bluetooth on every phone using FireChat to completely break the connection. This hard-to-break connection isn’t super important for casual chats, but during tense political showdowns, it could be a lifeline.