YouTube removed over 50 channels from its platform last year in an effort to purge what it deemed to be inappropriate content. This controversial decision has been condemned by creators and viewers as an act of censorship. Who is YouTube to arbitrate which content should be shown and which should be banned?
YouTube is not the sole perpetrator of such acts of censorship. The reality is, any centralized platform has the power to censor content and ban contributors. E-commerce sites like Amazon and Ebay have been known to ban sellers based on false information and arbitrarily remove user reviews. This summer, Twitter reportedly suspended 70 million accounts and Facebook has been criticized for employing community moderators who, many have complained, remove content based upon misunderstandings about intention or context.
Proponents of free speech dream of forming alternative digital content universes controlled by people instead of corporations. For the first time in history the creation of such systems is possible—a possibility that can be attributed to the invention of blockchain technology. Because blockchain is stored in a decentralized manner, the technology is ideal for forming more democratic, community-operated ecosystems. Blockchain-based ecosystems that are governed by its members are referred to as Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs).
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As utopian as DAOs may sound, they are only as perfect as their human developers and operators make them. The Steem white paper, which describes the protocol behind the Steemit decentralized content platform, states its intention as a “purposeful realignment of economic incentives [that] has the potential to produce results for everyone involved that are more fair and inclusive than the social media and cryptocurrency platforms that have preceded it.” This statement is followed by acknowledgement of the great challenge of creating algorithms that will accurately encapsulate what is, by nature, subjective: “The challenge faced by Steem is to derive an algorithm for scoring individual contributions that most community members consider to be a fair assessment of the subjective value of each contribution.”
A few concerns that arise when it comes to community-based governance include how such systems will treat hate speech, violent ideas, and dishonesty. Such fundamental questions as “what is truth?” “are there limits to free speech?” and “what are the origins of violence?” become important to address. DAOs that seek to create novel content ecosystems must decide the governance model and algorithms that will determine the rules of the community and execution of those rules. For example, do all members of the ecosystem carry equal weight when it comes to voting decisions, or do those who demonstrate subject-matter expertise or who have been most engaged in the discussion earn greater weight to their votes? For that matter, what constitutes “expertise?” Steem has configured their system to be driven by Delegated Proof of Stake (DPoS), wherein the weight of a member’s vote is determined by how much in Steem Power tokens are owned and for how long. The incorporation of duration is intended to prevent anyone from joining the platform, buying a bunch of tokens, and immediately gaining immense voting power without any previous engagement or time invested into the Steemit platform.
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My project, Contentos, is a protocol layer that aims to form the foundation for a decentralized digital content ecosystem that will empower content creators and users with creative freedom and expression. Distinct from Steem, Contentos’ Smart Contract Template allows creators to set the rules of engagement and assign revenue share allocations for themselves. Contentos will actually be able to support content applications and platforms like Steemit through its proposal of an “Ethereum + IPFS + cross-chain” complementarity. In other words, though Steem cannot currently be circulated to other content communities, Contentos will use sidechain and cross-chain technology to make this possible.
Contentos decentralizes the storage of digital content, eliminating the power to remove content or ban creators from any one entity (i.e. YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter). By decentralizing content storage, Contentos creates the foundation for a more democratic valuation system wherein the content that is most enjoyed, determined by the community members, earns the greatest amount of rewards. In this decentralized ecosystem, creators are free to post any type of content and the users determine its value. This setup exists in stark contrast to that of centralized online platforms, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, in which the value of content is determined by advertisers and by the platforms.
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Contentos also relies upon community members to flag problematic content, including hate speech, content that incites violence, and content that perpetuates falsehoods; however, recognizing the balance between the “wisdom of the crowd” and insight from experts, Contentos also rewards professional validators, members of the ecosystem who have proven expertise, to vet and verify claims about problematic content. The Contentos rewards model will distribute the vast majority (90%) of rewards to content creators and other users participating in ecosystem operations. The other 10% will go to dApp developers who improve user experience and are instrumental in garnering more users for the Contentos ecosystem. The amount of token rewards allocated to each contributing member is determined by the quality of the content, which is evaluated by the community.
The jury is still out as to whether centralized or decentralized systems will be better able to offer fair distribution of rewards, but to date, centralized systems have not done a great job of this. The wealthiest 1% of people owns half of the world’s wealth. Centralized financial systems failed the American people in the 2008 crisis, and though the economy has mostly recovered, our trust in institutions hasn’t. Why not address the problem at its root? Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies seek to accomplish this for the realm of finance. Protocols like Contentos and Steem intend to do the same for the content ecosystem. If the issue is the concentration of wealth, power, and decision-making ability, let’s decentralize these systems across verticals.