China’s great firewall has been breached as zero-Covid policy protesters are accessing Twitter and Telegram in record numbers. According to SensorTower, Twitter’s downloads increased from 150th rank to ninth rank among all the free iOS apps in China at the end of November. As the nation’s zero-Covid restrictions sparked a rare uproar among residents, the government’s censors have largely silenced the approved social media sites.
Now, people are rushing to Twitter and Telegram to spread information and organise more protests. The protests grew intensely after ten people died in a fire, from which many say they could not escape due to Covid-19 restrictions. But, Chinese authorities denied these claims.
Chinese media has not reported on the widespread protests that have taken over many significant cities on the mainland. Moreover, Covid outbreaks have been underreported as government-backed media sites are promoting more positive news in the wake of the protests. Beijing is currently running an info-op to stop people from sharing videos of the protests. Instead of seeing such videos, the government is allegedly posting escort adverts as part of its distraction strategy.
But social media users are aware of such strategies, with many of them increasingly using VPNs to breach the country’s firewall. But it is difficult to determine how the protesters accessed the ability to install new apps as the spike in Chinese-language bot activity is quite evident. As Beijing pushes forward with clamping down on tools that circumvent censorship, access to Twitter and other Western social media platforms has become more difficult in China.
Currently, all VPN providers are considered illegal if they are not approved by the government. Just two months ago, a widely used VPN service was shut down nationwide, preventing millions of users from accessing information. Rumours on the streets say that the spike in protests over Covid restrictions has seen local police randomly stopping and searching people for illegal, foreign social media apps.