Can HC Survive Without Censorship?

2019-01-20T19:59:15.000Z Honest Cash

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


Wikipedia cites the Oxford English Dictionary and ACLU when constructing the following definition:

"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.

Blockchain

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?

Problems

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)

  • CP

  • Secret Government Documents

  • Hate

  • Copyrighted Material

Note: I'm not saying "bad actors" because "bad" is subjective, nor am I approving or encouraging of all of these.

Responses

What happens when, not if, these are posted? Let's examine some of the responses.

Government

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:

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?"

Private Institutions

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.

General Public

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.

Platform Provider

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.

Counterarguments

File Size

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?)

Slippery Slope

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.

Summary

Trying to escape censorship invites problems. Is it really possible to completely avoid censorship?

What do you have to say?

Responses


RE: Can HC Survive Without Censorship?

by @im_uname

One way Honest.Cash can become more (and, imo, meaningfully) censorship-resistant is to provide alternative reader clientss, and code for people to host independent public instances that can read and present the blockchain (and ipfs) archived copies, and present them in a usable format on their own.

In other words, open source things! I see this https://github.com/honest-cash/honestcash, how do I run it? Is it in a good shape to be run independently? I'll love to run a mirror of Honest.cash, if only to get it closer to true uncensorability. Merely having things on the blockchain isn't enough, people need redundant places to fetch them in a readable format (and write more), else it's no better than banging your head against Ceddit.

Note that HC does not need to "give away the farm", so to speak; stories not archived onto the blockchain doesn't need to be read by alternative sites, neither is the voting function essential for censorship-resistance. All that's truly needed is a way to read, write and keep the thing going for the public in case HC is compromised one way or another.


RE: Can HC Survive Without Censorship?

by @Big_Bubbler

Good Questions! A bit thin on answers and positive suggestions, but, Ya, it is scary out here on the edge of the future. Buckle up :-)


RE: Can HC Survive Without Censorship?

by @christroutner

It's important to look at current technology, particularly in light of censorship resistance, through the lens of history.

When the internet version 1.0 was built, a lot of important things were ignored in face of all the excitement of being able to network computers and transmit data for the first time. A few of these important things were financial transactions, privacy, and censorship resistance. As a result we have the current dystopian, surveillance state.

The pendulum is swinging back around, but it's only just starting. New platforms like Honest Cash, Bitcoin Files, and Memo are the first baby steps towards a new internet. They are the first companies to put content onto an immutable, uncensorable block chain.

Google rose to fame because they discovered an efficient way to crawl the web, link content, and search those links. The Google for the new internet will efficiently crawl the *blockchain*, link content, and give people a way to search that content. But this new Google does not yet exist. It's early days.

Cryptocurrency will fundamentally alter the way we share information on the internet. It will do to the financial industry and government regulation what the current internet did to the newspaper industry. 

As all-powerful as governments are today, they still represent the few against the many. The US government has failed at regulating file sharing, speeding on the highway, or the consumption of drugs. If enough people break the law, laws become unenforceable and even laughable. There will be martyrs, but the revolution will not be stopped.


Honest Cash: Better Than Google

by @Xerographica

Google got its page rank idea from scholarly citations. The more times a paper has been cited, the more important it is…

The PageRank Citation Ranking:Bringing Order to the Web (12,537 citations)

With Google, the more links to a page, the more important it is.

Links and citations are basically votes. But where’s the paper that proves that voting is better than spending at determining importance? It doesn’t exist. If it did exist, we certainly would have heard about it, given that it would essentially prove that all markets should be replaced with democracy.

The fact of the matter is that voting can only reveal how popular something is. In order to reveal the importance/value/benefit/relevance/usefulness of something, people need the opportunity to spend their money on it.

Here on HC we do have the opportunity to spend our money on the content. The content is ranked by spending. If spending is better than voting at ranking content, which I believe it is, then HC is better than Google.

The internet was invented before society figured out how and why markets work. This is why Google and so many other websites are democratic.

Democracy has been around for a long time, but societies haven’t been equally democratic, which means that they haven’t been equally skewed to the superficial. With the invention of the internet though, voting has skyrocketed, and so has the skew…

From climate change to health care to voters’ struggles to pay their rent, Warren addresses issues with serious policy analysis. But so far, none of her prescriptions has become as much of a sensation as her tweets about her dog, to the point that some have looked into starting a separate Twitter account just for him. — Edward-Isaac Dovere, Elizabeth Warren’s Early Stroke of Genius

With its incessant tweets and Instagrams, the young left has in essence begun a long session of political exposure therapy with the Democratic mainstream, popularizing ideas that many people have never heard of before or ones that would have been laughed down at first mention not so long ago. — Clare Malone,The Young Left’s Anti-Capitalist Manifesto

Similarly, while Dwight Eisenhower was the first president of the television age, it was the telegenic John F. Kennedy who dominated the medium by proving that when it comes to video, every contest is, at least in part, a beauty contest. — Derek Thompson,The Political Question of the Future: But Are They Real?

To be honest, I’m somewhat uneasy about all the attention @aoc is getting, because a lot of it is obviously for the wrong reasons. She’s telegenic and her shocking rise makes a good story; but there are lots of impressive freshmen in this class, and she gets all the attention 2/ — Paul Krugman

I’m uneasy about it too. It’s stressful & scary, but it’s also out of my control, so the best thing I can do is try to focus that attention on the most urgent issues of our time: climate change, good gov, jobs, wages, justice; and highlight the contradictions you explain here. — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

With the biggest megaphone of all the House progressives, Ocasio-Cortez can help chart the course for the Bernie wing of the party in the House. — Andrew Cragie,What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 60 Minutes Interview Actually Reveals

As late as 1900, the typical presidential speech employed college-level complexity. By the 1930s, that complexity had fallen to high-school level, and today presidential speeches are simple enough for sixth graders. That’s according to a recent study that analyzed hundreds of presidential speeches, from Washington’s to Barack Obama’s, with the Flesch-Kincaid test, a U.S. Navy measure used to code the readability of military instruction manuals. More specifically, presidential rhetoric suddenly shed its sesquipedalian sheen in the early 1900s. Er, it got simple real quick. — Derek Thompson,The Political Question of the Future: But Are They Real?

What is God? It is only a subject that has inspired some of the finest writing in the history of Western civilization — and yet the first two pages of Google results for the question are comprised almost entirely of Sweet’N Low evangelical proselytizing to the unconverted. (The first link the Google algorithm served me was from the Texas ministry, Life, Hope & Truth.) The Google search for God gets nowhere near Augustine, Maimonides, Spinoza, Luther, Russell, or Dawkins. Billy Graham is the closest that Google can manage to an important theologian or philosopher. For all its power and influence, it seems that Google can’t really be bothered to care about the quality of knowledge it dispenses. It is our primary portal to the world, but has no opinion about what it offers, even when that knowledge it offers is aggressively, offensively vapid. — Franklin Foer,The Death of the Public Square

We’ve become victims of a dearth of creativity because the funders have found themselves in a place where they fund the safe bets: over and over. It’s not that superhero movies are bad. I loved a host of Marvel’s recent films, but again: isn’t it it perhaps the lowest common denominator of film? I’m fine eating lightly salted chips if that’s what makes everyone happy at the party, but damn, I’d really love some hot Cheetos too. So would many others. — Simon de la Rouviere,Radical Markets In The Arts

Bird Box may well be the new template for a Netflix “blockbuster.” The film’s viewership numbers are high, but they aren’t comparable to ticket sales. Netflix subscribers deciding to watch a movie are making a much less loaded decision than theatergoers. The former have already paid their monthly fee, aren’t being charged for pressing a button, don’t have to leave their homes, and can stop the film anytime they want. Those key differences are why the Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos’s comparison of The Christmas Chronicles’ 20 million streams to a $200 million opening weekend (which only six films have achieved in history) was ludicrous. — David Sims,What Netflix Is Learning From the Massive Success of Bird Box

Unlike on Netflix, here on HC we are charged for pressing the “upvote” button, so we do have to think about whether some content is truly worth our money. It should become readily apparent that markets are better than democracies at ranking things, and this will finally eliminate the superficial skew that society has suffered from.

Google’s mission is, or was, to organize the world’s information. But in order to put the world’s information in the most valuable order, it is necessary to determine people’s valuations, which is what the market is best at.

Right now HC is a really small market, and we can’t spend money on our own information, but so far the ranking seems more intelligent than on other websites.


RE: Can HC Survive Without Censorship?

by @Xerographica

Welcome to HC!  In your story you didn't account for the fact, the amazing, and awesome, fact, that HC is a market.  If you click on #HonestCash you'll see that the story at the top is about censorship. It isn't in this position because some committee put it there, neither is it in that position because a bunch of people voted for it, it is in that position because a bunch of people were willing to spend their money on it.  

How many posts on Facebook have been about Facebook?  1000s?  In any case, we don't know which one is the most valuable, given that Facebook is not a market.  It is a democracy.  Same with Reddit and Twitter and Youtube.  People vote for the content that matches their preferences.  So on these websites we can see which content is most popular, but we really can't see which content is most valuable.  

My best guess is that HC will help everybody realize that content is better regulated by spending than by voting.  This won't just destroy all the democratic websites, it will destroy democracy itself.  Because if voting isn't good at ranking/prioritizing content, then it really isn't good at ranking/prioritizing anything.  

A small group of politicians will no longer use voting to rank public goods.  Instead, each and every taxpayer will use their own tax dollars to rank public goods, just like each and every one of us here at HC can use our cash to rank content.  

Content and public goods are all just ideas, and HC will prove that the market is far better than the alternatives at ranking ideas.  In theory!  

This doesn't mean that HC will never have to remove content.  It just means that the decision can be, and should be, made by each and every one of us putting our money where our mouth is.  If people spend more money to remove, rather than keep, some hate content, then so be it.  I might not agree with the market, but I trust it more than I trust the alternatives. 

Will the decisions that our market makes be criticized by people outside of HC?  Maybe?  We can respond that the critics are welcome to improve our market by participating in it.  Larger markets make smarter decisions than smaller ones.  So I'm glad to have you on board!