It was a good run: just under 48 hours.
That’s how long the Chinese government allowed Damus, a decentralized, Apple-native Twitter alternative backed by Jack Dorsey, to live on the country’s version of Apple’s App Store. On Thursday, Damus announced the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) had demanded the app’s removal, due to alleged violation of national speech laws. Apple immediately complied with the request.
Damus is just one of several projects currently being built atop Nostr, a decentralized social media protocol favored by Dorsey. Last year, the Twitter co-founder donated 14 BTC (about $327,000 at writing) to fund Nostr’s development. The app also integrates the Bitcoin Lightning Network for payments.
Nostr is an open-source protocol based on cryptographic keypairs that aims to become the foundation of a global, decentralized, censorship-resistant social network. Anyone can build an app on top of Nostr; on such apps, users can’t be banned, and posts can’t be censored, as clients are run by all users. Nostr developers created Apple-compatible Twitter analog Damus as a proof of concept of Nostr’s potential. Other projects built atop the protocol include would-be Telegram replacement Anigma and chess app Jester.
Damus had only just launched globally on Tuesday after obtaining approval from Apple to be listed in the App Store.
While Apple, at the behest of national governments, can ban apps built on Nostr like Damus, no entity is able to censor Nostr itself. That selling point is the main reason free speech proponents like Dorsey have so vocally supported the protocol.
Dorsey has long advocated for the proliferation of censorship-resistant social media platforms. While acting as Twitter’s CEO in 2019, Dorsey funded a small team tasked with creating a decentralized social media protocol. In September, court records revealed that Dorsey implored Elon Musk, during Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, to transition the app to an “open source protocol, funded by a foundation.”
Musk has not yet heeded that advice. In late January, the world’s second richest man stirred some controversy by censoring a BBC documentary critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the behest of the Indian government, per a report from The Intercept. Free speech advocates decried the decision to ban the film, which questions Modi’s role in a 2002 anti-Muslim massacre in Gujarat.
“Elon Musk really shouldn’t be fighting Nostr, since it’s just about the only thing that can save his business,” whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden tweeted at the time. “The fate of the old platform model over the next decade is clear.”
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