The Decentralized Web – Why Do We Need It?
It’s been at least 25 years since I first used a modem to dial through the landline into “the internet”. You’ll never forget the robotic beeping when you grew up with Dial-Up Modems.
I was curious and hopeful for the future of the internet. I even took on a job that depends on it. And the rise of social media (Web 2.0) looked promising and full of opportunities. But over the following years, I had to watch how Big Tech and Big Sales took over large parts of the internet, build huge walls around their properties, stopped supporting open protocols where ever possible, developed proprietary technical solutions, and siloed people into their platforms.
The internet became less diverse and less fun, and the big companies started tracking, tracing, and collecting any activity of us to use them to make even more money. Data became the most valuable commodity. But many people didn’t care, because it meant a bigger reach, easier access to an audience, and free entertainment.
The Free & Open Internet is Dying
But 5 years ago I started noticing worrying trends on the internet. A lot of companies started consolidating their powers. Google dropped the “Don’t be evil” credo after they started negotiating with weapons manufacturers. The companies started to use their reach and power to spread their political and social ideologies. It started slowly, subtle, and nearly unnoticeable with biased ranking algorithms under the pretension to “show more relevant content to users”.
As a center-left Libertarian who follows conservative outlets, I noticed the political bias much earlier than people who only read left-wing news. I witnessed how the hypocritical inequality and standards applied to different political ideas increased a lot. Search results of Google and their competitors started to look like being from a different planet. I stopped using most Google products and switched to privacy products like Brave Browser, DuckDuckGo or Brave Search.
Wikipedia started locking down a lot of pages and a hard progressive-left bias became visible on a lot of pages. Biographies of liberal or progressive people were missing known scandals and for right-leaning people, every fringe accusation was rolled out in length (preferably using labels as alt-right or conspiracy theorist) grounded on claims by dubious biased media outlets or left fact-checker sites. Wikipedia became a weapon for political smears. They discontinued allowing multiple big conservative newspapers as sources and even the Co-Founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger, started to warn people about Wikipedias obvious bias.
The big Deplatforming started with fringe conspiracy people like Alex Jones but quickly continued with political agitators with the “wrong opinions” like Milo Yiannopoulos or Gavin McInnes and even liberals as Carl Benjamin. Big Tech companies colluded to take down people in coordinated campaigns with made-up claims for violations of the community guidelines. The accusations were never clear or precise and could rarely be challenged. Even worse, sometimes they colluded with payment or server providers to make it nearly impossible for an affected person to continue to run a business or live a normal life.
Techniques of Censorship
But Big Tech developed a range of techniques to control opinion on their platforms:
- Age Restricted Content is a technique to make it harder for people to access unpopular opinions. It’s not violent or sexual content that gets ranked by this, but political or religious information that runs against the ideology of Big Tech. To view the content a person needs to be an adult and prove this by adding an ID or credit card information. And even then you have to dismiss annoying warning labels to confirm to see “unsafe” content.
- De-Monetarization is a subtle educational tool to punish content creators for talking about the “wrong” opinions. Even though there are always advertising companies interested in advertising on nearly any content, Big Tech decides wrong opinions can’t be monetized. But they still run ads on de-monetized content, but don’t transfer the money to the content creator and keep it for themselves.
- Shadow Banning is a technique where a specific content or comment is invisible for the community, often without the awareness of the author that the content can’t be seen. Sometimes complete topics or hashtags get shadow-banned.
- De-Ranking is used to make sure only the correct opinions can be found. De-Ranked content appears much later in search results. People have to scroll by prioritized content that is usually of the opposite opinion.
- Throttling is used to reduce the reach of unfavored opinions by slowing down how fast the content can be shared or who can see the content.
- Content Blocking is a very invasive technique where social media platforms blacklist words, hashtags, or links from being shared, sometimes even in private conversations.
- Strikes are another educational method, usually applied with a three-strikes system, where the account gets deleted after the content creator collected three warnings for violations of community guidelines.
- De-Platforming is the final stage where the account of a content creator gets banned, blocked, or deleted either for a few days, weeks, months or forever. You’ll see this technique often applied coordinated between Silicon Valley companies to remove a person on all platforms at once.
The beginning of President Trumps' presidency marked a date where both sides of the political spectrum became ruthless in spreading misinformation and fake news. Other countries like China, Russia, or Iran started stirring up hate with bots. The political divide in the West deteriorated rapidly. The trust in media sunk to the lowest point in decades. Divisive ideas as Critical Theory started dividing people based on immutable characteristics like race, sex, or gender.
All that was needed was a match—the death of George Floyd—to ignite the worst race riots in decades. The release and cover-up of a likely man-made Virus on the world, the suppression of important compromising information about a presidential candidate, a suspicious election, the de-platforming of a sitting president, and the shut down of the conservative social media service Parler by competitors poured gasoline on the fire.
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes? (Who Watches the Watchers?)
The censorship and de-platforming that previously “only” affected conservative or libertarian people started to affect public safety and unleashed real harm and killed people.
Scientists that didn’t support the stories of the WHO or CDC – both unelected, suspicious organizations with decades-long histories of corruption and mismanagement – were deleted and removed.
Governments in multiple countries (including my country Germany) asked “scientists” for strategy papers that
would allow repressive techniques to control the population.
The unholy alliance of power-hungry governments, Big Tech, and new media started drumming up the panic narrative which became worse with each week. Each of the parties had different reasons: Politicians to acquire more power and control, Big Tech to enrich themselves massively, news media for the clicks and money, and scientists for fame, money, and attention. Deviating or critical voices were silenced, slandered, and insulted.
People died because politicians send infected patients back into elderly homes or put them on ventilators too early. A rushed vaccine developed without sufficient clinical testing was released on the world without proper systems to track adverse side effects.
Effective treatment with known (patent-free) drugs like Ivermectin was forbidden – likely to not risk the billions made from the vaccines. A meta-analysis of Ivermectin and real-world success stories, as from India (Uttar Pradesh), Peru, and large parts of Africa showed its effectiveness against COVID-19. But the media wouldn’t stop calling out podcaster Joe Rogan, who took prescribed Ivermectin to fight his COVID-19 infection, for taking “Horse Paste”, “Life Stock Pills” or “Horse Dewormer”.
The damage of the vaccines (taken from multiple adverse databases from the EU, CDC or WHO) is after half a year already in the millions (excluding massive underreporting), but the powerful cabal of censors seems to be unstoppable.
Objective science was de facto shut down, the people in power use their own fact-checkers to smear all opinions they don’t approve of, or directly flag posts on social media for removal. Scientific papers get unpublished over night without explanation, review processes taking usually 6 month, are reduced to one day. It’s the endgame of an information war.
Even though I focused mostly on censorship, many more grave dangers are looming in the world, that currently don’t affect the West, but might soon. Increasingly authoritarian and totalitarian regimes around the world control, monitor, block or cut off access to the internet. The Great Firewall of China is just one example. Other countries have cut off the internet temporarily for political reasons, for example in Turkey. Additionally, huge parts of the world have to rely on inflationary currencies that destroy their savings. Decentralization can help to repel these infringements on personal liberty.
The End of Freedom
The future looks dark for freedom-loving people, who believe in personal responsibility, the autonomy of choice, and an informed and open citizen. The rise of China as a totalitarian Dictatorship and the intentional weakening from within the USA might result in a dystopian future unless people wake up and resist. China has bought half of the world. Their influence on media and culture is strong and will be a nightmare for a free and open society. And Big Tech and governments showed which side in the war they will pick if it’s either business or freedom.
I fear the current internet can’t be saved anymore. Too powerful is the grip of the tech giants. The anti-trust case won’t go far, because of the strong ties between government and Big Tech. Too many people have sold out to Big Tech or China.
The only hope for a free future is a decentralized internet where people can get information without governments being able to control the flow of information. One where you own your data and that is in control by the people and smart contracts, not governments or corporations, and one that can’t be easily controlled or censored.
This is the first part of a three-part series on the decentralized web. The next part will show some promising examples for the decentralized web.
Ben Johnson (2021): Americans Have World’s Lowest Trust In Media: Survey, https://www.dailywire.com/news/americans-have-worlds-lowest-trust-in-media-survey. ↩︎
Josh Rogin (2021): New congressional report says covid-19 likely emerged in Wuhan months earlier than originally thought, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/02/new-report-says-covid-emerged-in-wuhan-months-earlier/. ↩︎
David Harsanyi (2020): How the media covered up the Hunter Biden story — until after the election, https://nypost.com/2020/12/10/how-media-covered-up-the-hunter-biden-story-until-after-the-election/. ↩︎
Danny Crichton (2021): The deplatforming of President Trump, https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/09/the-deplatforming-of-a-president/. ↩︎
Bundesministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat (2020): Wie wir COVID-19 unter Kontrolle bekommen, https://www.bmi.bund.de/SharedDocs/downloads/DE/veroeffentlichungen/2020/corona/ szenarienpapier-covid19.html. ↩︎
Dr. Simon Goddek (2021): How Scientific Fraud took the World Hostage, https://www.goddeketal.com/how-scientific-fraud-took-the-world-hostage/. ↩︎