As President Joe Biden presides over geopolitical shape-shifting as the poster boy of Orwellian “Thought Police”, the most significant clap-back yet may be the loss of confidence in US tech companies. The firms have been politically weaponized in the service of American interests.
Now other emerging decentralized social media networks are betting on taking back control of individual privacy and freedom of speech. They intend to phase out compliant, centralized firms as the de facto medium of online social interaction.
Over the years, key figures in crypto and web3, entities predominantly on the receiving end of US government intrusion, have either disapprovingly reassessed the monopoly of dominant social networks or started to delink their relationships.
The loss of confidence is symptomatic of the political entanglements of entrenched social platforms like Facebook or Google. This places decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and, by extension, decentralized social networks like Dorsey’s Bluesky, on the right side of history.
In a recent investigative article, The Intercept detailed how the US government is secretly working with leading tech companies to monitor and moderate content. The firms include Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Wikipedia, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Verizon Media.
The plan is to filter out content the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considers “dangerous speech”. The report claimed that the DHS is targeting what it calls “inaccurate information on the origins of the covid-19 pandemic and the efficacy of covid-19 vaccines.”
It is also looking at “racial justice, US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of US support to Ukraine.” The monitoring extends to elections. Facebook, for example, reportedly “created a special portal for DHS and government partners to report disinformation directly.”
In April, the Biden Administration launched the so-called “Disinformation Governance Board”. The advisory panel was meant to police misinformation, disinformation, and misinformation that supposedly threaten US interests.
It was soon disbanded following a public outcry. But the monitoring did not stop. In George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, the Thought Police, the secret police of the superstate of Oceania, uses all sorts of methods to surveil citizens.
The secret police punish thoughtcrime, personal and political thoughts unapproved by, and which challenge the authority of the regime’s tyrannical Big Brother. Likewise, Uncle Sam has weaponized social media to police free speech at the risk of flouting its First Amendment.
The Intercept said it analyzed “years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents” which it obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents. It concluded that the information “illustrates an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms.”
Stifling free speech
In 2019, Ecuador’s former president, Rafael Correa described his successor Lenin Moreno, as “the greatest traitor in political history.” This after Moreno revoked Julian Assange‘s asylum and gave him up to possible jail time in the US He remains detained in a UK prison.
The Wikileaks founding editor had been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London for seven years, under asylum from Correa. He was wanted by the UK and Sweden on various charges. The US wanted Assange extradited for conspiracy to leak its military secrets.
Australian-born Assange is one of the most recognizable figures to have faced the full might of the US government for speaking truth to power. Following his arrest, Wikileaks’ Bitcoin address, used to avert financial censorship, received a deluge of donations in support.
Bitcoin and Wikileaks go back to 2011. The cryptocurrency kept financial assistance flowing to the guerrilla publisher after Paypal, Mastercard, Visa, and Bank of America disabled services to Wikileaks under political pressure from the US
In return, Bitcoin (BTC), then newly incepted at just under two years old, enjoyed international attention for the Wikileaks association. More importantly, Wikileaks and Bitcoin’s informal alliance suggests the need for more entities that thrive outside state and corporate control.
Unlike Paypal, Mastercard, Facebook, or Google, Bitcoin and decentralized social networks give users both the personal and financial freedom to act according to their conscience rather than under political instruction.
More examples of censorship
There are several examples of censorship by social media network monopolies. In April this year, Twitter suspended the account of Aave founder Stani Kulechov. Presumably over a joke on the social media site’s leadership.
Kulechov told his 210,000 followers that he was joining Twitter as interim CEO – a tweet considered by many people at the time as a joke. Others found it confusing.
“It was an indirect shameless plug for Lens Protocol,” Alex Masmej, founder of NFT platform Showtime, said then. Masmej was referring to Kulechov’s new decentralized social network, a censorship-resistant protocol that allows users to mint profiles.
Kulechov’s ban came just days after Twitter accepted a $44 billion takeover by Tesla CEO and billionaire Elon Musk. Twitter’s then CEO Parag Agrawal was expected to retain his position. But he was fired last week after Musk completed the transaction.
Twitter says accounts are suspended for breaking its rules.
“When we permanently suspend an account, we notify people that they have been suspended for abuse violations, and explain which policy or policies they have violated and which content was in violation,” the rules say.
Stan Kucholev has since regained his account. However, former US president Donald Trump remains banned from the social media network. His account was permanently suspended in January 2021. He was accused of using the site to incite violence.
Trump, a prolific tweeter in his time, now runs his own social media platform called “Truth Social.” The platform is a right-wing network that seeks to rival Twitter. Even Truth Social has faced issues of censorship with the likes of Google.
Until recently. Google blocked downloads of the Truth Social app from its digital store for what it called “violent content.”
Decentralizing the chaos
Crypto and the blockchain have in the past emerged as a solution to situations where other actors are victims of traditional financial or political instruments. The complicity of payment processors, and now social networks, with powerful state interests, is a major concern.
Replacement of Twitter with say Trump’s Truth Social, a site based on the old system of the Internet known as “web2”, may facilitate similar problems in the long term. All of this makes the case for censorship-resistant web3 products immune from international meddling.
The most tenable solution that meets that description is, of course, Bitcoin (read crypto). And the decentralized social networks that come with its technology. Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has been framed in this way, as a victory for freedom of speech.
The billionaire describes himself as a “free speech absolutist”. He has shown strong support for cryptocurrency, particularly Dogecoin (DOGE). Musk is now expected to steer the platform towards the ethos of privacy and individual freedom. He said so himself.
“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” Musk wrote on his Twitter in April.
“Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated,” he added in a separate statement following the takeover.
Binance CEO joins the fray
Binance founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao, or just CZ, backed Musk’s acquisition of Twitter with a $500 million loan. As BeInCrypto reported earlier, he did it for free speech as well as for the growth of the web3.
“We would want to make sure that crypto has a seat at the table when it comes to free speech,” he declared. “There are more tactical things like we want to help bring Twitter to Web3 when they are ready.”
Put simply, Web3 is the idea of an Internet that is decentralized and powered by blockchain technologies and token-based economics. Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are expected to play a key role in Web3 as a medium of exchange.
Bluesky, a decentralized social media protocol backed by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, amassed more than 30,000 signups for the waitlist for its beta version. This happened within 48 hours of announcing the protocol.
Bluesky is building the AT Protocol, a new foundation for social networking which frees developers from corporate and government control. Large-scale distributed social applications can be built using the protocol.
It aims to come up with a protocol that grants users portability, scale, and trust, it says. Portability allows users to switch between apps without losing their data; scale, allows apps to handle more traffic and then trust, preventing algorithms from profiling users.
Privacy, autonomy, and individual freedom are key tenets of the Bitcoin movement, almost untouchable. In the example of Julian Assange, even the most principled of states, or corporations, are ultimately vulnerable to shifting interests.
It shows that they cannot be entirely trusted with upholding individual freedoms at all costs. A conviction of the dissident by the US would flout its First Amendment. Also setting a dangerous precedent for the criminalization of journalism, and therefore, free speech.
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