Big Tech has been in the news a lot over the past ten years. Initially, the coverage focused on the new opportunities created around communication and information exchange and the benefits they would bring. New technology networks offered unprecedented tools, offering everything from reuniting families separated by emigration to helping to overthrow autocratic regimes and restore power to the people.
Then we heard about the tremendous value that Big Tech created, bringing in billions of dollars to founders and employees, as well as the pension funds that invested in it. We knew they were a force for good in the world, not least because they never missed an opportunity to tell us this fact.
Sentiment towards Big Tech changed towards the end of 2016, fueled by an unexpected result in the United States presidential election. Big Tech platforms were no longer tools for promoting individuality and self-expression; they had quickly become boosters of hatred and lies. Apparently overnight, these businesses went from darlings to outcasts, from bastions of free speech to arming by malicious interests and rogue states to influence elections and spread false stories. Individuals in control of the platforms were likened to defenders of freedom to dictators. Journalists wrote that Big Tech now had more capital than many governments and more control over speech than any media outlet – without any democratic checks and balances or regulation to curb their worst impulses.
These events highlighted the amount of power currently present within Big Tech companies, along with the need to consider how we define speech in the modern world and how it should be amplified and regulated. That, in turn, affects how the platforms that define modern speech should be managed.
From decentralization to streaming
To address this, we need to explore how the early Internet unleashed so much creativity in its early days. At the time, the web was decentralized in its own way, with each website representing its own space, resulting in a huge network of nodes connected by hyperlinks. Some nodes were larger than others, but none so large as to disturb the landscape or require specific regulation. The internet can be seen as a huge garden that is supplemented with every additional website.
As both the network and the number of users grew, there was an increasing demand for organizing and making this network more efficient. Google responded to this by building an algorithm that searched the Internet and returned results, thereby launching a new Internet defined by algorithms. Content was suddenly recommended and defined by algorithms for music (Spotify), news (Facebook and Twitter) and entertainment (Netflix). The garden became a stream, and suddenly we were all influenced and directed by black box algorithms that we knew very little about.
It is this new streaming model of the Internet that has made such a vitriol point towards Big Tech. Big Tech companies determine what content is acceptable to share and what should be promoted often by considering what is most beneficial to their bottom line. Content controls are described as moderation by those who approve them and censorship by those who disagree. The loudest voices dominate the conversation, often disproportionately in favor of Big Tech’s staff and the traditional media – a small group with recognizable biases.
Back to the decentralized internet
What is the correct way to operate these massive platforms? Centralizing founders’ power is far too restrictive, and outsourcing to California employees and Western media is only a little better. Instead, we need to look back to the decentralized Internet of the past and see how we can recreate the period that many older minds look back on with so much nostalgia. Many argue that it is impossible to put this spirit back in the box, given the tremendous economic value that comes specifically from centralizing digital content and making it more accessible.
Blockchain has enabled decentralized governance of businesses, enabling a form of democratic decision-making that is weighted by people with skin in the game. Individuals buy networked governance tokens, such as the decentralized financial product suite Yearn.finance, which gives them votes on how to manage that ecosystem, while also preserving independent value and / or providing dividends. Businesses can be decentralized natively, such as Yearn, or transition to this model over time, such as DeFi lender Aave. This model provides returns, aligns strategy with ownership and removes the principal agent problem this is widespread in public and private organizations. Businesses can use it to distribute administration costs to owners and to make strategic decisions.
The public discourse on content moderation is often based on legal and philosophical concepts, with a liberal pinch of America’s First Amendment, to construct a top-down solution. This assumes that a small number of people know what is best for millions, even billions of users. But decentralized governance, proven effective by the thriving DeFi industry, can enable a bottom-up solution that puts power in the hands of users. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey even announced his interest in such an approach at the end of 2019.
Decentralized management can be achieved by providing users tokens, as described above, which in turn allows them to vote on the principles of moderation. This could even be tailored to the problem at hand – members of minority groups could be given greater weight in issues related to discrimination or religious groups related to freedom of religion. Power users may weigh more on their votes than regular users. By entrusting the broader issue of moderation to the wider community, users are entering into a social contract that will make them much more likely to adhere to principles that are being adopted. Not only would this make moderation more efficient, but it would likely repair some of the reputational damage that social media companies have suffered, making a clear distinction between censorship and moderation.
The largest technology platforms have a larger user population than the world’s largest countries, but none of them have the equal democratic checks and balances we look for in governance. Identifying complex pain points, such as censorship and moderation, and finding ways to enable users to own these processes gives them skin in the game and access to create a flexible policy mechanism to tackle Big Tech’s bruised reputations. to help heal. It’s also in the best interests of the companies, as the reputation damage from poor content policies has sparked antitrust speculation and calls to take Facebook apart.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the sole ones of the author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Luis Cuende is a co-founder of Aragon, a platform for building and running DAOs. Luis started his first open source project at the age of 12. He started Bitcoin in 2011, inspired by how crypto can bring freedom. In 2014, at the age of 18, he co-founded the blockchain startup for timestamping Stampery. He has multiple recognitions including Forbes 30 under 30, MIT TR35 and the Best Underage Hacker in Europe by HackFwd.