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SAN FRANCISCO – Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, public wrestling this month on the question of whether his social media service would use too much power when cutting off Donald J. Trump’s account. Mr. Dorsey wonders if the solution to that power imbalance is a new technology inspired by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency.
As YouTube and Facebook banned tens of thousands of Trump supporters and white patriots this month, many flocked to alternative apps like LBRY, Minds and Sessions. What the websites have in common is that they are also inspired by Bitcoin’s design.
This twin development is part of a growing movement of technologists, investors and everyday users to replace some of the underlying foundations of the internet in ways that the tech giants Facebook and Google are difficult to control.
To do so, they increasingly focus on new technological ideas introduced by Bitcoin, which are built on top of an online network that is designed, at the most fundamental level, to decentralize power.
Unlike other digital currencies, Bitcoin is created and moved not by a central bank or financial institution but by a vast and different network of computers. It is similar to how Wikipedia is edited by anyone who wants to help, instead of a single publisher. That underlying technology is called blockchain, a reference to a shared ledger on which all Bitcoin records are kept.
Companies are currently looking to use blockchain and similar technologies inspired by it, to create social media networks, host online content, and host websites without any middle authority. any country is responsible. Doing so makes it much more difficult for a government or company to ban an account or remove content.
These tests are relevant after the biggest tech companies recently exercised their influence in ways that questioned their strengths.
Facebook and Twitter prevented Mr. Trump from posting online after the Capitol rebellion on Jan. 6, saying he broke their rules about inciting violence. Amazon, Apple, and Google have stopped cooperating with Parler, a social networking site that has become popular with the far-right, that it has not done enough to limit violent content.
While liberalists and opponents of malicious content praised the actions of companies, they have been criticized by conservatives, First Amendment scholars and the Coalition. US Civil Liberties for showing that private organizations can decide who stays online and who doesn’t.
Jeremy Kauffman, founder of LBRY, said: “Even if you agree with specific decisions, I don’t trust the people who are making the decisions to make good decisions globally,” said Jeremy. Kauffman, founder of LBRY, provides a decentralized service for streaming video.
That has led to a scramble for other options. Dozens of startups now offer alternatives to the web hosting services of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon, all of which are on decentralized networks and shared ledgers. Many have gained millions of new users in the past few weeks, according to data firm SimilarWeb.
“This is the biggest wave I’ve ever seen,” said Emmi Bevensee, a data scientist and author of “The Decentralized Web of Hate,” a publication on the transition of right-wing groups to technology. decentralized. “This has been discussed in niche communities, but now we are having a conversation with the wider world about how these emerging technologies can impact the world at a fair scale. big.”
Bitcoin first appeared in 2009. Its creator, a dark figure known as Satoshi Nakamoto, stated its central idea was to allow anyone to open a digital bank account and keep money in a way that no government can prevent or regulate.
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Over the past few years, Bitcoin has gained very little traction beyond a small group of online admirers and those wanting to pay for illegal drugs online. But as its price goes up over time, more and more people in Silicon Valley notice the unusual technical qualities below the cryptocurrency. Some promise that the technology can be used to redesign everything from production tracking to online games.
The hype has declined over the years as underlying technology proved slow, error prone, and inaccessible. But more investment and time began creating software that people could actually use.
Last year, Arweave, a blockchain-based project to permanently store and display webpages, created an archive of websites and documents from protests in Hong Kong that left the Chinese government at risk. angry.
Minds, a blockchain-based alternative to Facebook founded in 2015, has also become the online home of a number of right-wing and neo-Nazi figures who have been launched from major social networks. Governments, along with fringe groups, in other countries, have been targeted by their governments. Minds and other similar startups are funded by well-known venture capital firms such as Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.
One of the proponents of this trend is Mr. Dorsey, 44, who spoke about the promise of decentralized social networks through Twitter and promoted Bitcoin through another company he runs, Square, a financial technology provider.
His public support for Bitcoin and Bitcoin-related designs dates back around 2017. In late 2019, Mr. Dorsey announced Blue Sky, a technology development project aimed at bringing Twitter. Have less impact on who can and cannot use the service.
After closing Mr. Trump’s account this month, Mr. Dorsey said he would hire a team for Blue Sky to address his annoyance with the power of Twitter by pursuing the vision set by Bitcoin. On Thursday, Blue sky publish the findings of a task force reviewing potential designs.
Twitter declined to give Mr. Dorsey an interview but said it intends to “share more” soon.
Blockchains are not the only solution for those looking for alternatives to Big Tech’s power. Many people have recently turned to the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram, which don’t need blockchain. Moxie Marlinspike, creator of Signal, has said that decentralization makes building good software difficult.
However, testing with decentralized systems increased in the last month. Brave, a new browser, announced last week that it will start integrating a blockchain-based system, called IPFS, into its software to make web content more trustworthy in the case. Major service providers stop working or try to ban websites.
“The IPFS network allows access to content even if it has been censored by corporations and countries,” said Brian Bondy, co-founder of Brave.
At LBRY, the blockchain-based alternative for YouTube, the number of daily subscribers has increased by 250% compared to December, the company said. The newcomers appear to be largely a large group of Trump fans, white supremacists, and gun rights advocates violating YouTube’s rules.
When YouTube removed the latest videos from the white supremeist video blogger Way of the World last week, he tweeted: “Why are we wasting time on this globalist scum ? Come to LBRY to watch all my videos in HD quality, uncensored free! “
Megan Squires, a professor at Elon University who studies new computer networks, said blockchain-based networks face obstacles because underlying technology makes controlling content difficult.
“As a technology, it’s great, but you can’t just sit there and become a Pollyanna and think all the information will be free,” she said. “There will be racists, and everyone will shoot each other. It will be the entire package. “
Mr. Kauffman said LBRY has prepared for these situations. While anyone can create an account and subscribe to content on the LBRY blockchain that the company cannot delete – similar to how anyone can create an email address and send an email – most people will have access to the video through a website on it. . That allows LBRY to enforce censorship policies, as much as Google can filter out spam and illegal content in emails, he said.
Even so, Kauffman said, no one would lose basic access to online chat.
“I pride myself on almost every type of voice that suffers from using it, no matter how much I disagree with it,” he said.