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Unless you’ve not been paying attention to major news, you’re fully aware that the internet is under attack. Net neutrality is being threatened by internet service providers (ISPs), governments are cracking down on online content, and social media platforms are censoring users more than ever before.
This heightened attitude of censoriousness has led many to believe that the internet is no longer the free and open platform it once was. And while this may be true to some extent, there is still one corner of the internet that remains relatively untouched by censorship: The decentralized web, or Web3.
So where did the need to censor voices of dissent on the internet come from? What are the conditions that allow for such a thing? We will do a full case study in this article.
China and tolerant censorship
One of the most well-known examples of internet censorship is the Great Firewall of China, a system of filters and blocks that the Chinese government uses to control what its citizens can see online. While the Great Firewall is often spoken about in hushed tones, it is important to remember that it is not all-encompassing.
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The Great Firewall of China is not absolute; it is permeable. It does not block everything, but rather it blocks selectively, in a way that is designed to be partially permeable, so as to allow some information in and out.
The Chinese government does not block every single website or piece of information that it disagrees with. Instead, it employs a strategy of what could be called “tolerant censorship.” This concept has been analyzed in depth by Ronald Deibert, director of the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto.
In other words, the Great Firewall of China does not try to completely isolate its citizens from the rest of the world. Instead, it allows for a certain amount of information to flow in and out, while still controlling the overall narrative.
The Chinese government has been able to get away with this form of censorship because it controls all of the country’s major internet infrastructure. This gives them a significant advantage over other countries when it comes to censoring online content.
However, this advantage is beginning to disappear. As more and more people around the world gain access to the internet, the need for censorship-resistant platforms that cannot be controlled by any one government is becoming increasingly apparent.
Silicon Valley and the Great American Suppression
First thing’s first — this is in no way an expression of political inclination. The following is a technical analysis of how social media companies in the United States are censoring their users.
It is no secret that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been censoring content more and more in recent years. This trend has only accelerated in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, with both Facebook and Twitter implementing new policies that crack down on so-called “misinformation.”
While these new policies may be well-intentioned, they have had a chilling effect on free speech online. In particular, they have led to the censorship of a lot of political content that falls outside of the mainstream narrative.
Of course, there is a valid argument that dangerous narratives would be best left out of reach of the general public. However, it is important to remember that social media platforms are not just any other publisher. They are unique in that they have a nearly-universal reach. This gives them an incredible amount of power when it comes to shaping the public discourse.
And while Silicon Valley may argue that they are using this power for good, it is worth noting that many of these companies have a clear political bias. In particular, Facebook and Twitter have been accused of censoring conservative voices on their platforms.
How would the Web3 model be different?
The decentralization vs. centralization argument for Web3 has been made countless times before — so let us go into detail. We’ll take a look at the architecture of Web3 and how it would prevent censoriousness from an implementation perspective.
The policies of private companies are often hidden from public view, making it difficult to hold them accountable. However, the decentralized nature of Web3 would make censorship much more difficult to conceal.
For example, let’s say that Facebook decides to censor a particular post. In the current system, this decision would be made by a small group of people behind closed doors. However, in a decentralized system, this decision would have to be made by consensus among all of the stakeholders.
DAOs and Web3 governance
Governance in Web3 is still an evolving area, but there are a few proposed models that would make censorship much more difficult. For example, the “decentralized autonomous organization” (DAO) is a type of organization that is governed by code rather than by humans.
The code of a DAO would be designed to reflect the will of the community. This would make it much more difficult for any one person or group to censor content without the consent of the wider community.
There are a number of other proposed models for Web3 governance, but the DAO is one of the most promising. These are still the early days, but such types of decentralized governance structures have the potential to make censorship much more difficult, if not impossible.
Can Web3 survive government intervention?
Of course, the big question you may be asking is: Can Web3 survive government intervention?
This is a difficult question to answer, as it is hard to predict the future. However, it is worth noting that many of the same technologies that would be used to build censorship-resistant platforms are also being used to build tools for privacy and security.
One of the hallmarks of a free society is the ability to communicate freely without fear of censorship. It is clear that we are moving into an age where censorship is becoming more and more common.
One way governments tend to intervene is by mandating that platforms remove certain types of content. For example, the Chinese government requires that all social media platforms censor content that is considered “sensitive.”
The good news is that, so far, Web3 applications have been largely immune to this type of intervention. For example, Ethereum has been used to build a number of censorship-resistant applications, such as decentralized exchanges and privacy-focused messaging apps.
This suggests that there is a strong possibility that Web3 applications will be able to survive government intervention.
The bottom line on Web3 and censorship resistance
The trend of increasing censorship by social media companies is alarming, and it is having a chilling effect on free speech online. However, the decentralization of the internet that is enabled by Web3 provides a way to fight back against this trend.
The use of blockchain technology, distributed ledger systems, and cryptographic techniques would make it much more difficult for censors to tamper with or delete content. In addition, the use of these technologies would make it more difficult for censors to block access to specific pieces of content.
The decentralization of the internet is not a panacea, but it does provide a way to fight back against the increasing trend of censorship by social media companies. And that is why Web3 is the ultimate catalyst of censorship resistance.
In the next article: Silicon Valley has been hailed as the center of innovation and technology entrepreneurship, but that of course leads to a problematic geographical imbalance. We will take a look at how Web3 companies have been established outside of the traditional tech hubs and what this means for the future of the industry.
Daniel Saito is CEO and cofounder of StrongNode.