Back when dialup modems and BBS’s and Yahoo Messenger was the only way to engage with your fellow internet user, we had the understanding of a certain amount of amiable anonymity. Identities were fluid. You stripped them off when they weren’t fun anymore and put on a new one, and there was no risk of it effecting your life outside of the internet.
You could go online on Monday and engage in the time-honoured tradition of trolling—causing mischief and generally having fun—and then avoid the collective consequence dogpile by disappearing, or even better, engage a new anonymous sock and join into the opprobrium heaped on your former identity. Then laugh and laugh and laugh while you reap social capital.
Then social media came along and ruined it all.
Sites like Facebook (FB.Q) make their money on your data, and therefore force you to use your real name. They would even suspend your account or kick you off their platform if you didn’t give it. The collapse of anonymity was replaced by the rise of a surveillance culture.
You can still get into fights on facebook, but it’s almost assumed that there’s going to be a level of civility. Your name’s out there and it’s tied to your personal page, and the prospect of whatever you say coming back to you is strong. It’s an adequate deterrent towards the kind of fun mischief common to web 1.0, and also helped curtail some of the excesses to come.
Twitter (TWTR.NYSE) was different.
Since its inception, Twitter has grown to become a dominant space for people to get news, keep abreast of what’s going on with sports and pop culture, get into political debates, politicize personal tragedies and generally be shitheels at strangers all under the benefit of anonymity. There were ways to tie it back to you (called doxing) but that was generally frowned upon.
But the milieu was different. Twitter feuds didn’t carry the gameified culture of joy of Web 1.0. Instead, they’re nasty, brutish things that can often spill over into real life. Unlike BBS’s and instant messenger devices, Twitter became a tribalizing force—pitting one ideologically driven group against another—and adding to the overall sense of cultural and intergenerational conflict.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, objectively speaking.
So what’s wrong with Twitter?
Twitter has a best practices manual that you read and sign before joining just like every other social media platform. Part of that includes a code of conduct that lays out what is and is not acceptable. The problem with Twitter is that most of said code of vague, and subject to interpretation, and Twitter execs are often quite—shall we say, liberal—in their interpretation of what is and is not acceptable discourse.
Now a note about free speech. Our respective governments take slightly different approaches to free speech. The United States is more absolute in their approach—the government can’t censor media outlets—and the Canadian government can, but under certain limits. We have the reasonable expectation of free speech.
It doesn’t say anything about private organizations (like Twitter and Facebook and Thinkspot and any other organization) having limitations on censoring your shit if your shit is offensive. But the problem arises in who gets to determine what is and is not acceptable discourse.
It’s not democratic. And it’s a lot more insidious than just dishing out suspensions and bans for hate speech. It’s manipulating the algorithm to ensure that speech that doesn’t jive with your personal ideological opinions won’t get such widespread exposure. It stifles public discourse leading to a wind-tunnel of political opinions, no diversity of thought, and more division.
So basically Twitter is no good.
How do we fix it?
Jack Dorsey wants to decentralize it.
“Twitter is funding a small independent team of up to five open source architects, engineers, and designers to develop an open and decentralized standard for social media. The goal is for Twitter to ultimately be a client of this standard,” Dorsey tweeted.
Twitter’s CTO Parag Agrawal will be leading the team, which will be called Bluesky.
With a decentralized social media, there would be no central control, no team of people deciding what content should be shown to who. If the network did use any algorithms to sort content, they would be publicly available. This would give all news equal opportunity to go viral.
The clue is in the word: decentralized.
A decentralized organization is a business structure where control isn’t centralized in one or maybe two people, but instead spread out to a number of different groups. In most cases they act autonomously on their own information. Most cryptocurrencies are created by decentralized organizations and distributed around the world and work from remote locations.
In the case of a decentralized twitter, we would have a small group of people imposing their ideological biases on the flow of information, but instead a large group of people in disparate locations reaching a consensus on the information flow, and other aspects of the company.
Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages to a decentralized organization:
- More firepower – anyone across the world can contribute and add code
- Collaborative – Giving everyone a voice leads to a lot of discussions and foresight for each proposal, helping to develop the project.
- Flat structure – by not having a clear authority figure, or chain of command, decentralized organizations are slower to operate as decisions take longer to make.
- Disagreements – When the community disagrees strongly, it can often split the organization into two. This happened when Bitcoin Cash split away from Bitcoin.
The last point represents Dorsey’s greatest challenge. Decentralization evens the playing field, eliminating hierarchy in favour of a more democratic means of attaining consensus. It won’t sit well with investors, most of whom prefer a stable hand at the wheel and would likely be uncomfortable with a democratic decision making mechanism.
And tied to that problem is one of the core issues with any kind of direct democracy.
When everyone gets to have their opinion heard and there’s no one centralizing force to make decisions, or at least moderate discussion, progress grinds to a halt as blocs form, and fissures appear in the company.
Blockchain has a built-in fix for when these disagreements arise: it can fork the code. When Roger Ver and Jihan Wu of Bitcain promoted the notion of Bitcoin Cash maintaining its block size at 32MB, and Craig Steven Wright and billionaire Calvin Ayre wanted to raise the block size to 128MB, they hard-forked the second larger block size into what became Bitcoin SV, or Bitcoin “Satoshi’s Vision.”
But if consensus on direction can’t be reached in terms of a decentralized company, then all production grinds to a halt. It’s something Dorsey will need to think about prior to making the move.
Looking beyond the consensus problem, this is a fascinating idea and we’re stoked to hear more.