Ukraine shows the way: How dComms provides a powerful communications alternative for us all

For civil society organisations and independent media, usage of communications tools from tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft (GAFAM) is often a dangerous compromise putting their work, staff and beneficiaries at risk.  Apart from issues of control, transparency and costs, GAFAM companies are known for collecting and monetising user data.  This has been the reason why eQualitie, which has always developed open-source solutions, is now proposing dComms, a Fediverse tool for civil society organisations and independent media, as a real communications alternative.

dComms is a containerised bundle of decentralised and federated communications tools. It includes application downloads, a chat and a micro-blogging platform, and more.

One of dComms' most popular offerings is a free and open-source federated social-media platform called Mastodon. Mastodon is a micro-blogging platform somewhat similar to Twitter (now X) that gets its content from a large number of nodes, usually called instances, all of which run their own copy of the Mastodon software. These instances communicate with each other using the ActivityPub protocol, which enables intercommunication between Mastodon servers as well as any other service that uses the protocol. is the address of the dComms Mastodon server for the city of Kyiv. You can find a wide variety of users on the instance, including journalists, activists, news organisations, charities, as well as a significant number of general public users. They connect with thousands of users from thousands of other instances (as of March 2023, Mastodon had an estimated 10 million global users) to share information and interact.

Aside from micro-blogging, dComms also bundles a Matrix chat server and web interface. Matrix is a protocol and specification for secure and decentralised communications.

From Ukraine to the world

The dComms tool began its development shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an emergency communications system for Ukrainians in the event of disconnection from the global internet. It was feared that as Russia invaded, it would sever these connections to repress free flow of information between Ukraine and the rest of the world. And while disconnections mainly happened only for brief periods as the result of shelling, we have seen several examples of Russian troops forcing the routing of the internet in Ukraine back through Russia, raising concerns about censorship and surveillance in those areas.

The Ukrainian internet was much more resilient than anticipated, which gave the dComms team more time to focus on refining and increasing its ease of use, eventually resulting in today's kit.

It is currently used by thousands of individuals and dozens of CSOs (civil society organisations) in Ukraine to receive news about the war, emergency alerts, and to communicate with other people around the world. dComms also has several other instances outside Ukraine, including one for the Foreign Media Association Turkey and an experimental censorship-circumventing instance in Iran. eQualitie can also offer dComms as a possibility to the APC network in their respective countries.

Federated instances

Arguably the most important technical detail of dComms is the ability of a dComms server to federate with other servers running the same, or similar, software. In software terminology, federation is the ability for users of one server to communicate with users of another server. Email is a great example of federated software, as users of one mail service can send mail to people of any other email service. For the Ukrainian deployment, this has meant that one server going down does not mean a complete disconnection of the dComms network.

Like ActivityPub, Matrix is federated, so a user of the Kyiv Matrix server can communicate with a user of the Lviv instance or any other federated Matrix server. However, unlike ActivityPub, Matrix messages can also be end-to-end encrypted, meaning messages sent between users are only readable by the user at the other end. For users in highly surveilled networks, end-to-end encryption provides the assurance that their messages are not being read by anybody aside from the recipient, and being open-source software, it assures that it is functioning as intended.

An ethical choice for communications

Alongside public deployments, eQualitie runs its own dComms instances of Mastodon and Matrix for its staff and company outreach. It is therefore also possible to use the tool internally, such as between members of the APC network, and between any individuals and organisations.

While the Mastodon and Matrix organizations both run flagship instances of the software contained in dComms, these flagship instances – large and centralised – can also become single points of failure. They are often the suggested instances for new users when they join the network, and so host significant portions of their respective networks; hosts about 287,000 users, or about 10% of all Mastodon users, and Matrix’s hosts a similar portion of its 60 million users. Among other risks, this centralisation means these instances become easy targets for censors, and they have already been subject to censorship and filtering in countries like India and China. Growing federated networks by running smaller instances makes blocking of federated communications increasingly difficult, and has a cascading effect on the freedom of users to intercommunicate.

eQualitie is proud to offer civil society organisations and independent media an open-source, Fediverse-based communications tool respecting the ethical principles that are dear to us all – enhanced control, privacy, customisation, transparency and collaboration while reducing costs. dComms can empower organisations to maintain their independence and better serve their missions without being subject to the constraints and risks associated with GAFAM or other proprietary services.


Image: Screenshot from Ukraine: Communications and Internet Resilience during War via eQualitie on YouTube.

Aidan Elphick-Miner is a Decentralized System Administrator working on censorship circumvention at eQualitie. They have had a long-time interest in online privacy, hacker culture and cybersecurity. They are a member of several tech collectives that host infrastructure for individuals and groups to voice political dissent.
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