Recent political events in the United States demonstrate the critical challenges that key technology platforms pose for democracy, in stark contrast to the powerful role social media has played in pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and Hong Kong. In the United States, misinformation and misinformation about elections, as well as white nationalism, have spread through online groups, and prominent political and public leaders have found ways to reinforce lies through technology platforms.
In the eyes of the public and in the dark corners of the Internet, the organizers, including members of the proud boys, planned an attack on the American Capitol to stop what they saw as fraud. However, the events in the United States are not isolated. It fits into the broader structure of key social media platforms used to promote violence, disinformation and insurgency, as evident in places such as Myanmar and the Philippines.
Among other things, a by-product of these incidents has increased fears that increased private decentralization and peer-to-peer technology, or P2P, will provide a new and more powerful tool for domestic terrorists. While these concerns are not unfounded, privacy-focused decentralized P2P applications can actually protect democratic governance and help us move away from centralized platforms. The main reason is that unlike centralized platforms, they can not create echo chambers – they target users with specific content that suits their interests and potentially amplifies harmful content to enhance the user experience. This gives us a better way to deal with the impact of social technology on public safety, similar to how we previously managed more traditional forms of interaction such as voice, phone calls and email.
On the one hand, the largest digital media companies support freedom of expression, but on the other hand, their business model is based on collecting data, creating behavioral profiles and targeting specific content to specific target groups. At its best, this art framework serves surface content and services that an individual user wants to see or use. But most importantly, key platforms that fear democracy are deliberately trying to attract users to the platform using algorithms designed to broadcast mass-targeted content to a specific audience. This model allowed Russian intelligence agencies to disrupt the 2016 US election through centralized social media platforms, and Islamic terrorist organizations could radicalize and lead by example through YouTube.
Related: Social media giants need decentralization on the internet … now!
In the face of the general setback that followed the uprising in the Capitol, mainstream American social media has called for permanent or indefinite bans on former President Donald Trump and others. This was considered by some to be the minimum requirement for proof of liability, especially with regard to how lighting companies pursue white supremacy.
I agree that our largest technology companies have done everything necessary to defend democracy, albeit with long delays and inconsistencies. However, the same demands for regulating content on social media increase the fear that proprietary and decentralized technologies may become a dangerous new villain, despite the fact that business models and technical bases are very different.
The case for decentralized technology focuses on privacy and peer-to-peer technology.
The main problem with decentralized proprietary technology and P2P technology is that powerful and controversial people, controlled by centralized technology platforms, will have access to well-thought-out alternatives with little or no control. And this fear is not entirely unfounded. Telegrams, for example, have proven to be a haven for illegal activity and a source of misinformation and incitement to hatred, which has led to riots and extrajudicial killings in countries such as India. Privacy-focused technologies always find a balance between protecting users’ privacy and ensuring broader public security. The main question, however, is whether democracy and public security are really at greater risk if the harmful effects shift to new, more private uses.
Privacy-focused decentralized technology solutions offer a better alternative to centralized platforms as they have different incentives.