Is Private Censorship Still “Censorship?”

Commentary on my last post:

Whether it’s a private entity or the government doing the censorship, it’s still wrong and harmful, and for some of the same reasons.

Government censorship is far worse than private censorship because it eliminates your ability to speak on any platform.

But the value of free speech is a universal principle, not a just political one. Human progress requires open debate. This is one of the key principles of the Enlightenment responsible for the surge of progress and human development in the modern era. Toleration of disagreement is essential for the pursuit of knowledge.

A platform committed to the principle of free speech has a moral obligation to maximize the speech it tolerates, even if that speech is wrong or repulsive to the operators. That doesn’t mean that platforms must allow disruptive or illegal speech. All platforms must have some policies to restrict disruptive behavior like spam or illegal behavior like crime.

A platform is not the same as a social community. A community is a group of people committed to common values or interests. Communities often need to restrict speech to facilitate their mission. For example, a marine biology community can’t have outsiders promoting day trading schemes. A social networking platform is a host of communities and has a moral obligation to maximize the range of speech it tolerates.

One of the primary problems with social media censorship is confusion about the concept of “harm.” Illegal behavior like threats of violence are disruptive of speech and should be banned by social platforms. However, the intellectual elite no longer differentiates between physical harm and harm to emotions, or often simply wrong ideas. If harming emotions is prohibited, then all speech is vulnerable, since we cannot be responsible for other people’s feelings. We pay lip service to freedom of speech, but we no longer understand what it is. The Enlightenment has drawn to a sad end.

In the last three years, we’ve seen censorship of speech using the wrong pronouns, censorship of speech that contradicted government health advice, censorship of speech that represented government health advice at one time, but was changed later, censorship of speech because people of the wrong nationality commented on another country’s politics, and censorship of speech for no reason at all, because the AI trying to censor wrongthink is easily confused. On the other hand, when someone on Facebook threatened to literally murder me, Facebook told me it reviewed the message and found nothing wrong, demonstrating where its priorities lie. Too bad he did not misgender me or told me not to take a vac**ne, or call me a politically-incorrect slur.

In short, censorship has been weaponized to push the political agenda of the group in power, and the elites are seeing just how far they can push thoughtcrime.

By the way, even as the elites trust our ability to tell truth from falsehood less and less, the intellectual and material tools we have to evaluate the truth for ourselves are better than ever. We have the intellectual tools of the scientific method, statistical science, and empirical knowledge of the world. These tools would be awe-inspiring to the natural philosophers of the past. We have the material tools of the Internet, engineering, and mass-produced scientific instruments making the truth more accessible than any time in history. Yet our intellectual elites have responded to the mass-accessibility of truth with an unprecedented wave of censorship and intolerance.

Can Bitcoin Fix Big Tech Censorship?

Today is the start of Hereticon, an annual conference that celebrates heretical ideas. Why celebrate thoughtcrime? According to Hereticon: 

While our culture is fascinated by the righteousness of our historical heretics, it is obsessed with the destruction of the heretics among us today

Most of the heretics of the past were wrong, just like today’s heretics. But history teaches us that leaps in human progress usually start with radical new ideas that are rejected by “experts.”  

Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian doctor who discovered the importance of handwashing in 1847, was universally ridiculed and forced into a mental asylum for advocating his views. Today, handwashing is one of the least controversial positions imaginable, but there is no shortage of radical ideas that will get you “canceled.”

While many blame “woke cancel culture”, “big tech”, or “big government, ” the root of hostility to heretical ideas is in our epistemology – our understanding of the origin of knowledge. To nurture radical new ideas, we need a marketplace of ideas that values both dissent and rationality. I believe that Bitcoin will play a major role in making these new marketplaces possible.

What Is The Problem?

The problem with “Big Tech Censorship” is not that big tech is run by the left. It’s that the enlightenment idea of objective truth has been replaced by tribalism. “Truth” is determined by group identity, not the relation of your ideas to reality. If a “majority” of “experts” say something is true then that is true. 

Reality is objective – it exists independently of our opinions. The only way to obtain knowledge is through empirical evidence and a valid epistemological process – what we call “the scientific method.” The means to discover the truth are available to everyone with an Internet connection today. The problem is that intellectuals on both sides of the political divide no longer believe people to be capable of evaluating facts for themselves. They think that we believe whatever the groups we identify with tell us to think. If it is impossible to have a rational discussion about truth, then force is the only way that we can establish the “truth.”

The Importance of Dissent

Moral and intellectual progress requires all issues to be open to debate.

We should value disagreement because we believe that every bold new idea begins as a radical thought by a single individual. An open marketplace of ideas is required for the best ideas to flourish. Just as material markets require the freedom to adapt to a constantly changing world, so does the marketplace of ideas. Any society that forbids open debate faces stagnation, decline, and ultimately ruin. This has nothing to do with whether the entity doing the censorship does so through government censorship or through “community standards.” 

It is fine for a community to exclude some views. A “community” is a group of people with like-minded ideas interests, and it is necessary to exclude disruptive individuals from such a group. But social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TokTok, etc are not “communities.”

A social network is a platform for communities. Not allowing the communities within a platform to decide which views are acceptable leads to the decline of the entire platform. When such censorship is embraced by all social platforms, it leads to the decline of a society.

(Note: Politicians in democracies don’t like to censor directly, but they often employ the threat of censorship with Congressional hearings and the like. It’s usually impossible for users to tell whether a private platform censors of its own volition or under duress.)

More Closed Platforms Are Not A Solution

There are three reasons why it’s hard to compete with a Facebook or a YouTube:

First, 99% of the content that people want to post does not violate their rules. Of the 1% that is blocked, most is worthless, but .1% is vital commentary. It’s that .1% that we need to protect. It’s impossible to compete with Big Tech because that 99% of content has too much network lock-in for an alternative to succeed. (Sorry Parler, MeWe, Gettr, etc).

 A second problem is that any alternative to Big Tech platforms will start with users who Big Tech rejected. The alternative platform will require those users to survive. By virtue of being rejected by Big Tech, the alternative will be banned by Big Tech for refusing to censor “unacceptable” content. They will be kicked out of app stores, their payment provider will cancel, their web hosts will cancel, their SMS, auth, email, KYC, DNS, firewall, CDN, messaging, and every other service provider will cancel. As a CTO, I depended on over a dozen different services to power my organization, and over the course of 2020, most of them updated their terms of service to justify censorship of politically incorrect customers. 

The third problem is that running a platform is expensive. To pay for the platform, you need advertising. But if most (or any) of your content is what Big Tech rejected, you will find it difficult to attract advertisers. If you try to get users to pay for your service, your payments processor will fire you, as OnlyFans found out.

The Need For Decentralized Alternatives

The more intolerant the legacy networks become, the more motivation and expertise will flow into decentralized alternatives like Mastodon, PeerTube, ActivityPub, and Diaspora. 

However, content is not enough. To enable an alternative, we need to decentralize the content layer, the Feed, and the value layer.

Decentralizing Content

IPFS is a peer-to-peer protocol for censorship-resistant content storage.  

Decentralizing The Feed

The Feed is the personalized list of Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Twitter Tweets, & TikTok/YouTube videos you see to discover new content on each platform. The Feed can never be neutral or objective. The Feed is tailored to your interests, but it depends on both machine learning and product managers’ opinions about what you like. Because there is always far more content created than you can consume, each platform has to decide how to filter that content to maximize the appeal of their platform. This is necessarily a subjective process – should you see more news posts or posts from friends? Should you see more inspirational, graphical, or factual content? What content should be excluded entirely? These questions are data-driven, but ultimately humans decide on the tone of each platform. The Feed is very good at being addictive and is one of the main reasons why second-tier platforms cannot compete. The Feed is expensive to maintain, but being customized also makes it very valuable.  

I would like to see Content separated from Feed. Search engines are examples of Feeds competing for the same content, but we don’t have an equivalent for social networks. You should be able to create Content once, then choose what Feed service to use to discover other’s content. If a Feed becomes too intolerant or allows too much spam, I could switch to another Feed to find my content. My friends would discover my content through several Feeds, tailored to their vision of content discovery.

Decentralizing The Value Layer with Bitcoin

Until we have a censorship-resistant Internet, we cannot have censorship-resistant social networks. To have a censorship-resistant Internet, we need censorship-resistant money, because running social networks is expensive, and centralized payment services are single points of failure. Space on the feed has enough value to pay for decentralized networks, but we need censorship-resistant money for advertisers to pay for space on the feed. Bitcoin can fulfill this role.

What Can I Do?

  • Support decentralized payments by using Bitcoin
  • Use Brave browser, or another browser with built-in support for decentralized content hosting like IPFS.
  • Publish content on blockchain-powered content platforms like Steemit
  • Let me know if you have other ideas.

Addendum: Is Private Censorship Still “Censorship?”

How To Tell If A Cryptocurrency Or DeFi Platform Is A Scam

My survey of 2500+ crypto scam victims identified some key signs that a crypto project is a scam. Whether it’s a scam from the start, or just doomed to fail and waste all your money, here are six ways to tell if a crypto project is a scam:

1: Does this project have a legitimate profit model?

There are a few legitimate ways to make a profit in crypto, such as mining, lending, staking, and yield farming. Learn what each means to so can evaluate if an opportunity is legitimate. Never invest money in projects whose business model is not disclosed or that you do not understand.

Legitimate CeFi platforms clearly state what they do with customer funds, list their fee schedule, and expected returns. DeFi platforms should list token allocation, a link to the whitepaper, and smart contract source code. Never invest in Defi projects without a whitepaper or documentation stating the tokenomics.

2: Is this project feasible and sustainable?

Even if a project is legitimate, it needs to have a business model that is scalable and sustainable. For example, many projects aim to create coins for very narrow niches, like a token to pay your dentist. Such a project will never achieve a very large market cap. It’s also not sustainable because the token doesn’t add any value to its target market, and so it will never pay off for investors.

3: Does this project have independent verification or third-party certification?

Be extremely careful about platforms that offer to trade your money. There are only a few legitimate ways for businesses to trade customers’ money. In the US, they must be either a hedge fund or registered brokerage. They will be licensed with a regulatory body such as FINRA & SIPC or the SEC (via FORM D filings). Be aware that scammers are impersonating licensed financial professionals, so it is necessary to independently verify their contact information via FINRA BrokerCheck, LinkedIn, etc.

Note that hedge funds are not even legally allowed to directly advertise their services, so if someone is messaging you via Instagram and asking for deposits in anonymous crypto payments, it is 100% a scam.

In DeFi, services like RugDoc rate the legitimacy of financial platforms. RugDoc will tell you if a project has passed independent security audits like Certik. Never invest in a DeFi project without a security audit, or if rated as high risk by RugDoc.

4:  Can you independently verify this token or platform?

A common scam in crypto is to impersonate a legitimate platform or token. To avoid this scam:

1: Always access crypto services through their official website and never trust “support” links found through search engines or social media.  Scammers are placing search ads that fool you into thinking their fake website is a legitimate platform.

2: Be very careful of social media recommendations. Always check independent sources like RugDoc (for DEFI) or FINRA (for CeFi)

3: If buying a token, confirm the contract ID matches at CoinMarketCap.

5: Is this project run by a reputable team?

Many DeFi projects are anonymous, but CeFi projects should always disclose their management team. Always check that the bio on the project page matches what you can find on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Launching a cryptocurrency exchange is an incredibly technical endeavor. Does the management team have the required technical experience or are they just paid celebrities? Do not simply look at the number of Twitter followers they have, as that is easy to buy.

Conclusion: Signs of a crypto scam: 

According to my survey of 2500+ scam victims, fraudulent schemes have a few things in common: unrealistic returns, high-pressure tactics, sales pitches via messaging platforms, no mention of fees, & lack of reputation.

Scammers have deployed thousands of bots on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Telegram, and Twitter to push their platforms or pump up their tokens. Never trust social media recommendations, even from a friend, as scammers are hacking profiles to push their scams. Check to see if a project has a legitimate community on Reddit or Discord.

If in doubt, keep in mind that the safest strategy is always to buy and hold Bitcoin on your own hardware wallet.

Originally posted at The Bitcoin Consultancy.