Damus, a newly-launched decentralized social media platform just got banned in China. Designed as a Twitter alternative and backed by Jack Dorsey, the app has been blocked in the country due to its decentralized nature, which goes against China's policies.
China's stance on censorship has been well-known, with the country clamping down on social media platforms in the past. Damus was launched as an alternative to Twitter and other existing social media networks, but due to its decentralized nature, it violated the Chinese government's regulations surrounding the use of social networks.
The platform only operated for roughly 48 hours before it was blocked by Chinese authorities, led by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). According to Damus, the authorities demanded the app’s removal due to an alleged violation of national speech laws. Given how the app was launched on the country's Apple App Store equivalent, the Palo Alto-based tech giant immediately complied with the takedown request.
There are, of course, decentralized security measures in place that are built into the Damus app, given how it's built on top of Nostr, an open protocol for censorship-resistant social networks.
Over Nostr, Damus is run from a client, whether as a native client or as a web client. For publications of any major type of media file, keys are signed and sent to multiple relays. For updates, a user requests from these relays and server instances, while signatures are verified on the client end. This operative framework forms the secure model for the creation of a decentralized social platform such as Damus, which Nostr devs envisioned as a proof of concept for the open protocol.
Jack Dorsey's involvement in the project began in 2022 when he donated 14 BTC (roughly equivalent to $320k as of press time) to support the development of Nostr. At the time, Nostr was already building integrations for the Bitcoin Lightning Network, which Dorsey passionately advocated during his time at Twitter.
China has been known for its censorship of activists, journalists, and critics of its nominally socialist government. As a largely authoritarian state, policy dictates the way social media platforms are used and accessed in the country. In this case, the policy stance of China appears to have been an obstacle for Damus ever since it registered for release in the country.
Current tensions between China and Taiwan may also be a contributing factor in the tightening of restrictions across the country's social media space. China is one of the most censored countries in the world. The Chinese government has a long history of attacking free speech and censoring information that it deems as a threat to its power.
In recent years, the Chinese government has implemented various methods of censorship, ranging from blocking certain websites, limiting access to certain topics on social media, and even punishing people who express dissenting opinions. This censorship extends beyond media and journalism – it also applies to art, literature, and education. China also has a strict regulatory policy over cryptocurrencies in general, ruling crypto and digital assets as property despite a trading ban in place.
As an open-source protocol based on cryptographic keypairs, Nostr is censorship-resistant by design. The banning of Damus showcases how policy restrictions can pose a challenge to innovation, particularly when it comes to decentralized technology. This incident serves as a stark reminder of the difficulties of launching decentralized social media applications in countries with strict policy stances.
It's unclear if or when Damus will be able to re-enter the Chinese market, but at least for the unforeseen future, potential users in the country are blocked from using it.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.