Myanmar Flocks to Bridgefy to Challenge Military Coup

The Bridgefy App in Real Life 05/13/2021

Featured image credit: VOA Burmese Service.

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military deposed the democratically elected leaders of the country’s previous elections, held in November 2020. They declared them invalid, and proclaimed a year-long state of emergency. Civil-resistance efforts immediately sprung up through popular platforms, like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, to which the government responded by blocking them and ordering Internet shutdowns. That’s when people in Myanmar turned to Bridgefy to challenge the military coup.

Instead of relying on an online connection, Bridgefy uses a smartphone’s Bluetooth antenna to send messages within 330 feet or 100 meters. However, every phone acts as a link in an ever increasing chain of devices, known as a mesh-network. This allows the Bridgefy App to cover large areas by letting messages “hop” through other users’ phones until they reach the intended destination. This way, Myanmar protesters could continue organizing themselves at a time when most online communications were simply impossible to access.

The surge in downloads was dramatic, never-before-seen, and likely drawing from the previous fight for democracy experienced in Hong Kong in 2019. In roughly 48 hours, the Bridgefy App was downloaded more than 1,000,000 times! This number is huge compared to the estimated 22 million social media users the country has. Even Reuters echoed this news, which, at the same time, helped it further travel the world. And while there’s a definite peak the day the military seized power, app downloads in Myanmar remained consistent as the month progressed.

bridgefy app downloads myanmar

Bridgefy App downloads in Myanmar, from January 28 to February 11, 2021. Graphic made with internal records.

Research suggests Internet shutdowns do little to quell protests. In many cases, it backfires and causes larger, lengthier demonstrations. In the case of Myanmar, people used the Twitter hashtags #Myanmarcoup or #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar to show the world the military actions deployed against civilians. As for Bridgefy, reviews left on the app stores were especially heartwarming, and helped renew our lifelong commitment to our users.

Engineering & Technology. Online war: Tech uprising against Myanmar military government grows.
Reuters. Offline message app downloaded over million times after Myanmar coup.
Vice. How to Bypass ‘Digital Dictatorship’ During the Myanmar Coup.
Wikipedia. 2021 Myanmar coup d’état.