Can any content publishing platform survive without censorship?
This isn't a philosophical discussion of the merits and drawbacks of censorship. This is a discussion of reality and practical considerations. First, what is censorship?
"Censorship is the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient" as determined by a government or private institution."
This boils down to "suppression" of "bad" content. "Bad" is, of course, subjective. Who is to decide what is "bad"? This is a topic worthy of a dedicated post.
In the context of websites that allow users to submit content (think: Honest.cash, Twitter/Gab, Instagram, Steemit/Facebook), this means that "bad" content can be removed by those in control of the platform.
Centralised platforms like Twitter can, and regularly do, censor content. Content on centralised platforms can be trivially edited and removed at will. A distributed blockchain offers a solution: (mostly) immutable data. It is not easy to edit or remove data from a "well-designed" distributed blockchain.
Honest.cash allows content to be recorded on the Bitcoin Cash blockchain at the desire of the content creator. Bitcoin Cash is a well-designed blockchain that is sufficiently secure. Therefore, for this post, I will simplify and assume data in BCH is permanent, uneditable, unmodifiable, unremovable, immutable, etc. Would you trust a cryptocurrency where your transaction amounts, recipients, or even sender can be easily modified?
Next, let us consider some worst case scenarios. Discussing the best case scenarios is pointless. (I have a lengthy view on "utopia" which will have to wait for another post.)
Actors come in droves because they learn of a new "uncensorable" platform. Actors will post such things as:
Calls for Violence
Slander and Libel
Digital Store Fronts for Drug Peddlers and Hitmen (e.g. Darkweb)
Secret Government Documents
Note: I'm not saying "bad actors" because "bad" is subjective, nor am I approving or encouraging of all of these.
What happens when, not if, these are posted? Let's examine some of the responses.
The reality is that government steps in with a very heavy, all-reaching, all-encompassing, omnipresent hand. (What? How do you "step" in with a hand? Do they walk on their hands? Are they head-over-heels in love with power? Perhaps politicians are quadrupedal?)
Rarely (never ever?) will anyone mostly agree with the decisions and interference by their government.
This group provides the most worrisome responses. I won't spell everything out in gory detail because this audience is already intimately familiar but here are some examples of reality:
- China blocks most of the Western web.
- Telegram has been blocked in Iran and Russia.
- Venezuela, at the time of writing, is blocking Twitter and Instagram.
The lesson? Blocking an entire platform is an option for government. Do we want HC to be censored in some countries?
The EU poses another interesting challenge: how do you reconcile the "Right to be Forgotten" with unmodifiable data? Will the EU block, fine, or imprison key people running the platforms? (If anyone has any data on RtbF enforcement or precedent, please get in touch.)
Further, what about secret government documents being posted? We already know what happened with Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. WikiLeaks is the best example/indicator of what happens to those who release secret government documents in an immutable way.
What happens to the future martyrs that decide they want to upload everything they have on a globally immutable platform regardless of consequences? I think the government, especially the USA government, will do everything within their unlimited power to remove all traces of the information. They'll prosecute everyone even remotely related and/or 'make an example' of them to scare off future whistleblowers.
This all goes back to "How will governments respond to users storing secret government documents in an unmodifiable data store?"
Tech companies love filing useless patents for utter nonsense. What happens if their "intellectual property" gets hacked and stored in an immutable data store? Sure, they'll be quite upset and legally target the platform/uploader with varying degrees of success. Their probability of success is a function of how important the data is to them and the jurisdiction of the platform/uploader.
Companies where the line between private corporation and government agency is blurry (e.g. Boeing, Raytheon, Siemens, Lockheed Martin, etc.) will grab the attention of the respective government and evoke the same responses as above.
Imagine the headlines: "Child Exploitation Inextricably Tied to Bitcoin Cash!" Now all of a sudden my uncle thinks I'm a creep and I can never tell my great-grandmother that I work in the Blockchain industry.
In my opinion, BCH is on the cusp of reviving cryptocurrency. Do we really want to associate it with this nonsense? Steemit is immune due to having a dedicated and separate blockchain. Still, if the talking heads on mainstream TV discuss CP on Steemit, my great-grandmother will somehow associate it with Bitcoin.
What if the founder of Honest.cash, founder of Steemit, or Zuckerberg learned their platform contributed to the unremovable distribution of child exploitation material of their children, nieces, or nephews? What if an assassination of a loved one is orchestrated on their own platform? Unlikely, but possible.
Even if someone unrelated is a victim, is this enough to keep them up at night? Considering that many social media platforms do host violence promoting content or other "objectionable" content, it doesn't appear to me that much sleep has been lost over these issues. Ladar Levison is the one exception to allowing his platform to be abused.
What does no censorship look like?
No one knows.
Julian Assange is the closest example we have. Is he truly uncensored? Can he speak freely about Ecuador or Russia? He isn't in a building labeled "prison" but is he really free? Most free people don't release 400 GB of encrypted "insurance" files with a driver's safety device. I'm still waiting for radical transparency WRT those decryption keys.
How can one upload 400 GB of data to an uncensorable platform? This means many (possibly all) parties must hold exact copies of this data. After all, the decentralized nature of the blockchain is what makes it uncensorable. Just think of BitTorrent. Bitcoinfile is working to support files that are a whooping 25 kb! Clearly, there are technical limitations making this unfeasible.
While we shouldn't underestimate Moore's law, we must also realize that files are getting bigger and bigger.
An excellent point! While I don't have a rebuttal for this, 4/7 of the kinds of abuse are still possible. That's less than half. Secret government documents, CP, and copyrighted material will also be less in quantity than the other 4. (Which is greater: hateful, slanderous, and violent posts on 4chan or amount of unique copyrighted material indexed by ThePirateBay?)
Let's take some real world examples:
WikiLeaks: Payments blocked by Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and Western Union.
"That's too extreme!" you rebut.
Facebook still censors political content it disagrees with.
Trying to escape censorship invites problems. Is it really possible to completely avoid censorship?
What do you have to say?