The Use of AirDrop, Apple’s Peer-to-Peer Technology, in the 2019 Hong Kong Protests

Hong Kong is currently seeing the largest mass mobilization in its history. Many observers have ascribed the success of the Be Water movement to its “leaderless” and “self-organized” character. Telegram groups and social media platforms have been well-known means for organizing collective action, and prior to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, another technology also emerged. In late June, protesters started using AirDrop, Apple’s peer-to-peer technology, to anonymously send calls for protest action to people on public transport and at popular public places across Hong Kong. How has this specific technology been used, and how has it contributed to mobilization in Hong Kong? More specifically, who sent these messages, when and where were they received, and how did recipients respond to them? My paper will elicit these and other questions by reporting findings from two waves of protest surveys, a natural as well as a field experiment conducted at multiple protest sites in Hong Kong. Investigating the use of AirDrop at the Hong Kong protests is important because it is likely that AirDrop will be adopted by future protest movements elsewhere, especially in authoritarian regimes where other means of technology are regularly monitored.

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