Recent political developments in the United States show the fundamental challenges that centralized technology platforms pose for democracy – in sharp contrast to the strong role that social media plays in pro-democracy movements in Middle East and Hong Kong. Disinformation and misinformation about the US election, as well as white nationalism, spread to online groups, and leading political and social leaders found the means to reinforce lies through technology platforms.
In the eyes of the public and in the darker corners of the Internet, the organizers, including members of the Proud Boys, planned an attack by the US Capitol to stop what they considered a rigged election. However, events in the US are not unique. It fits into the broader pattern of centralized social media platforms used to promote violence, misinformation and insurrection, as evidenced by places such as Myanmar and Philippines.
A by-product of these events was, among other things, the heightened concern that more private decentralized and peer-to-peer, or P2P technology, would offer a new and more powerful tool for domestic terrorists. While these concerns are not unfounded, decentralized and privacy-focused P2P applications can in fact protect democratic governance and help us move away from centralized platforms. The key reason is that, unlike centralized platforms, they do not address the creation of echo chambers – targeting users with specific content that suits their interests and potentially amplifying malicious content to increase user engagement. This gives us a better way to manage the impact of social technologies on public security, just as we used to manage more traditional forms of interaction, such as speech, phone calls and mail.
On the one hand, the largest digital technology companies are committed to free speech, but on the other hand, their business model is based on collecting data, creating behavioral profiles and targeting specific content to specific audiences. In the best light, this technical support serves to emerge content and services that individual users would like to see or consume. But more importantly, and in terms of democracy, centralized platforms deliberately seek to get users to connect to the platform through algorithms designed to bulk route content to specific audiences. This model enabled Russian intelligence operations undermine US elections in 2016 through centralized social media platforms and Islamic terrorist organizations radicalize and indoctrinate people through YouTube.
Faced with public opposition after the Capitol uprising, major US social media companies have banned the accounts of former President Donald Trump and others permanently or indefinitely. Some have celebrated This is a much needed, minimal demonstration of responsibility, especially given how forgiving technology companies are was in terms of the superiority of whites.
I agree that our largest technological societies have done everything necessary to protect democracy, albeit very late, inconsistent way. However, the same calls for regulation of social media content also raise concerns about private and decentralized technology as a new dangerous scarecrow, despite the fact that their business models and technical support are significantly different.
A case of decentralized and peer-to-peer privacy-oriented technology
A key concern of private decentralized and P2P technology is that influential and controversial people who are regulated on centralized technology platforms will have access to well-designed alternatives with little to no oversight. And this fear is not entirely unfounded. For example, the telegram was found be a refuge for illegal activity and a source of misinformation and hate speech, head to riots and lynching in countries like India. Privacy technology always faces a trade-off between protecting users’ privacy and ensuring wider public safety. However, the key question is whether democracy and public security are in fact at greater risk if these harmful influential people turn to new and private applications.
Decentralized privacy-oriented technology solutions offer a better alternative to centralized platforms because their incentives vary. First, it will be more difficult for privacy application designers to customize content because they collect little or no data. Second, P2P design makes it difficult for users to distribute content extensively. This is not to say that decentralized systems completely prevent users from sending information quickly to many people (eg LimeWire), but rather that the reach is more limited and targeted. Reach can be further limited by technical changes, such as limiting the size of groups or the ability to transmit content.
Dipayan Ghosh, co-director of the Digital Platforms and Democracy project at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy, he wrote this regulatory change is essential to “establish the right incentives for companies to act in the public interest, without forcing the government to be directly involved in the decision-making process as to which type of content should be considered socially unacceptable and as such should be for companies. “
While decentralized privacy technology has historically been conceived as a means of avoiding Big Brother oversight, it can also fit in with the wider movement to strengthen new regulations such as change. Section 230 Decent Communication Act. Specifically, private decentralized and P2P technology gives us the opportunity to turn away from technology platforms designed to explore, categorize, select and amplify. An increase in signal download in response to WhatsApp policy changes, for example showing off growing demand for more private alternatives. Regulation is needed to limit the roles of centralized technology platforms, but it cannot function independently. We need technology to support these efforts and help us implement new technical proposals that do not threaten democracy.
Centralized platforms will remain here. Decentralized and P2P platforms are unlikely to completely replace centralized platforms. In the fight against extremism, content moderation and regulation will be needed to ensure that centralized platforms match the ideals of the Internet. An effective way to prevent the spread of misinformation or misinformation to the public is for moderators to be able to quickly disprove or block this content if it incites violence.
A more serious problem with decentralized and P2P platforms is that misinformation and misinformation can continue to spread without the central authority being able to intervene. This is an undeniable challenge. However, the risk to democracy is mitigated by the fact that there is less scope for mass sharing through P2P and decentralized systems. Research shows that misinformation and misinformation benefit out of scope. Removing the targeted range and amplifying the content can prevent the spread of harmful content.
American democracy has not been disrupted and lynching in India it did not happen simply because people communicated misinformation and misinformation through Internet technology. This type of information circulated long before the creation of the Internet and was based on historical cultural differences, racism and government failures – see as an example of documentation of racial terror in America between reconstruction and World War II.
As for the role of technology, we need to define the real danger to democracy: centralized technology platforms that allow people to communicate harmful and violent content to a wide audience, and that are based on a business model that directs billions of dollars to increase targeted curation.
Private decentralized or P2P technology poses undeniable dangers, as do telephone, letters and word of mouth. The beneficial differences between this technology and centralized platforms can best be summarized in the following example: It is illegal for someone in a theater to shout “shoot” if it is not, but it is not illegal to falsely tell their neighbor that there is a fire. Private decentralized applications and P2P will be used for illegal activities. However, stopping this illegal activity cannot involve invading privacy or stopping communication. Instead, we will have to address the root causes of these activities.
The proud boys attacking the American Capitol are based on a history of white domination and racial injustice. Violence against Rohingya minorities in Myanmar Terms back to the 50s and the legacy of colonialism. If we look at technology focused more on privacy, because new dangers are meaningless. Instead of creating a technological scarecrow, we need to address the root causes of misinformation, misinformation and hate speech. In the meantime, we must regulate our existing platforms and promote alternatives that do not in themselves undermine democratic standards.
The views, ideas and opinions expressed herein are by the author only and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Nikhil Raghuveera is a resident of the GeoTech Center of the Atlantic Council and a project manager in the Equal Justice Initiative. His research focuses on the intersection of technology, social inequality and systems of oppression. Nikhil graduated with an MBA / MPA from Wharton School and Harvard Kennedy School. At graduate school, he focused on racial justice, social movements, and technology policy.