The Belarus government is cracking down on reporters in the country. Headed by President Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s government announced on Friday that they were immediately canceling the press accreditations that had been granted to foreign journalists. The election of the President has been mired in controversy and the European Union also didn’t recognize it. This move from his government comes as they continue to block the access of citizens to local media websites due to a three-day, massive internet outage and over weeks of protests regarding the elections on August 8th. Access to the Belarus branch of Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe has also been blocked.
Now, there are media outlets that have decided to fight back. Some Belarusian news organizations have decided to improve the resiliency of their mobile apps by using a decentralized file-sharing service called NewNode. This was developed by a startup called Clostra, which is based in California and operates on the same principles as that of torrents. This means that bits of information can be stored on devices by the users and they can be shared in a peer-to-peer fashion with others. However, this story is not just restricted to Belarus because internet censorship takes place globally. Even though governments worldwide are getting better at blocking content, local media and activists are experimenting with new ways of resistance.
The principle on which NewNode operates is that if one person cannot access a website, but another can, then they will be able to connect with each other and share the data, similar to how torrent clients operate. However, this wouldn’t be useful if whole mobile networks are down or internet service is completely shut off. This means the technology can be used in Belarus where internet shutdown is not absolute. Even the worst internet outages happened not because internet connections were unplugged, but because the government created a bottleneck through intense traffic filtration.
CEO of Clostra, Stanislav Shalunov, said that devices will automatically connect with one another for building a network. This will help in sharing content with one another using whatever means of internet access available. He said that it was a self-healing network designed to adjust according to the number of devices. Currently, NewNode is just in its initial stages and the company hasn’t revealed its number of worldwide users. But, since the election in Belarus, approximately 800,000 users have joined in a month, which is definitely a plus for the company. Before the election, there were only 10 NewNode users in Belarus.
The company’s chief executive said that now Belarus was their largest user base. He said that the best way for a company to grow is when it can solve problems and this is exactly what NewNode has done in Belarus. Before Shalunov joined Clostra, he had worked at BitTorrent and also cofounded Open Garden, another rebel communications startup. This is the company responsible for the messaging app called FireChat, which uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connecting mobile phones in an offline network.