After YouTube struck down crypto accounts this month, it rekindled interest in decentralized media platforms and freedom from censorship. Changpeng Zhao, CEO of Binance was discussing how to monetize decentralized videos on Twitter and Chico Crypto moved their entire video library to a decentralized file system. The general rhetoric of the crypto space was that YouTube messed with the wrong group of people.
Why media censorship is exists
Crypto enthusiasts are likely more informed when it comes to alternative media options, but some of the dreams seem a bit far-fetched. Here, for instance is an influencer in the space claiming that censorship is straight up, just not okay.
1 It's a sad week for the @YouTube crypto community, as we are witnessing mass censoring of our work.
Censorship is a common thing in mass media and is something many of us have come to accept as normal, however it's not OK.
— Wendy O (@CryptoWendyO) December 24, 2019
To begin my argument, I’ll ask, what is media without censorship?
Media without censorship is something that the masses won’t buy into. Parents can’t let their kids use an uncensored platform, people of every demographic will find something that offends them and unite against it, and illicit content will be interacted with more than accessible content.
The chart above was posted by Mark Zuckerberg in a think piece about media governance. Immediately, what it reminds me of is videos on YouTube that promote high returns for doing things like day trading, investing in a cryptocurrency or using leveraged exchanges. The more ‘too good to be true’ content is, the more interaction it receives. That type of content also bears the most risk to naive consumers.
There are two perspectives to look at this issue from: if users mess up, it’s their own fault or governance is there to provide a balance. Because there are two perspectives, it is very unlikely that there will be no sort of compromise.
Decentralized has never meant uncensored
All decentralized protocols have some sort of governance whether formal or informal. The Bitcoin community has rolled back fraudulent transactions, Ethereum has public discourse and formal positions when it comes to updates and existing decentralized media aren’t free-for-alls.
DLive is a Twitch-like streaming website that leverages Lino’s proof-of-stake blockchain network to accomplish “decentralized ownership.”
“The Lino blockchain is designed to allow network ownership and value to be distributed amongstcontributors and become more and more decentralized over time. We’ve seen current centralizedplatforms make arbitrary decisions against content creators’ interests: higher cuts and more strictmonetization rules. The decentralized Lino blockchain aims to achieve a balance among allcontributors to ensure each decision is aligned with all parties’ interests.” – Lino whitepaper
Even though they Lino values decentralization, there are still community guidelines that determine automated censorship with policies similar to YouTube and Twitch.
Similarly, SteemIt and Peepeth have policies that are enforced by moderators and bots. SteemIt is basically the decentralized Reddit and Peepeth is Twitter-like. If they were free-for-alls, then people who weren’t happy would fork the network and split the user base which would be detrimental to the platform and content creators.
How decentralized media platforms will govern
Decentralized protocols aren’t exempt from the need to grow. Miners and stakers need incentives, investors need returns and users need an audience. The biggest decentralized platform will be the one that is accessible the most people. In order to be accessible to most people, the protocol will need to: filter offensive content, hold authority to moderate, have a decentralized form of governing.
Right now, not many decentralized protocols are governed in a decentralized fashion, and those that are still have kinks to work out. For example, MakerDAO governs changes in the Dai stablecoin by letting MKR holders vote. It makes sense to let investors make decisions, but when a small amount of people hold the majority of tokens, it might as well governed at a private shareholder meeting.
Decentralized autonomous organizations have been a popular way of making changes in an ecosystem. MolochDAO is an organization within Ethereum that uses power to make changes in the ecosystem. With a system of checks, balances and funds, they are able to progress a vision of Ethereum in a similar manner to how an organization would govern. Still, the original DAO was hacked for $50 million and was shut down afterwards.
Developers and miners on Bitcoin and Ethereum have a more closed off method of governance that relies heavily on influencers and reputation. People heavily involved in the networks communicate with each other, propose ideas and then convince miners / nodes to update their networks. This method is much more centralized than a democracy, but the community is fine with it because the most knowledgable people are the ones making decisions.
There are infinite ways to govern, but the bottom line is that decentralized applications have to make decisions. Those decisions affect how many people use the networks and in turn determine the success of the project in general. Media platforms will have to made decisions in a similar manner and while some may be more conservative with censorship than YouTube is, the topic is sure to come up.