Telegram, an end-to-end encrypted messaging app, has been a driving factor in the recent Hong Kong public protests. The app, which has a maximum group member limit of 10,000, has brought together hundreds of thousands of protestors on the street seeking pseudonymity and digital security from their own government’s prying eyes.
The protests have seen millions of Hong Kong citizens rally against a proposed extradition bill that, if passed, will likely allow local residents to be extradited to mainland China without much due process.
Using Telegram to Organize Protests
The Telegram community in Hong Kong has been described as autonomous, leaderless, and comprised of hundreds of thousands of individual groups. People have been using the app to share their opinions and participate in organic discussions about the current political climate. The app has allowed the protests to become leaderless, which is very useful since authorities can’t simply paralyze the event by jailing a singular lead protestor. Social media as a whole has helped protests in Hong Kong to become highly organized.
More than 25 percent of Hong Kong's population of 7.4 million people protested this weekend. By proportion, these are the largest protests in modern history. Absolutely stunning. pic.twitter.com/5YAR1xDMjT
— Isaac Stone Fish (@isaacstonefish) June 17, 2019
Protestors have also been using the messaging app to share news and video footage that has been largely censored and ignored by a handful of pro-Chinese media outlets. Details such as arrests, assaults on protestors and journalists, and letters of support from Hong Kong industry leaders were publicized on Telegram. The app has also helped protestors in evading surveillance from Beijing-backed authorities.
Telegram has been banned in China since 2015, and Russia and Iran since last year. While Hong Kong supporters in China have managed to find ways to circumvent the ban, Chinese authorities launched a massive cyberattack against Telegram’s servers hours before the protests last month, causing a temporary outage.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong police arrested a chat room organizer, Ivan Ip, from his residence for conspiring to cause a public nuisance. The police implied that they were able to find him through his mobile number, which was linked to his identity. While personal Telegram conversations are encrypted, the app doesn’t support end-to-end encryption for its group chats. Following Ip’s arrest, the group has beefed up their security measures, encouraging the use of anonymous, pay-as-you-go SIM cards and using foreign numbers to register for new accounts.
Weapon of Choice for Protestors, Activists, and Journalists
Telegram has gradually become a tool for activists and journalists to share news globally. Along with surgical masks and laser pointers to avoid facial recognition, the messaging app has become an “indispensable weapon” for modern-day protestors. Recently, many journalists in Ukraine said that they have started using Telegram as a medium to share news as well.
Last year, Telegram held an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) that raised $850 million to develop the proposed Telegram Open Network (TON) blockchain project. The private sale of the coin was targeted at venture capital firms and investors, who were even given discounts to buy the token ahead of the public sale.
The messaging app has been widely regarded as the primary means of communication within the blockchain and cryptocurrency community.