Freedom of Speech. . . (Maybe) We are doing it wrong

25 April, 2022

Today I’d like to talk about something that should be so implicit, that it may look even pointless to talk about it. It’s a principle for which humans have fought for since the beginning of time. Freedom. Freedom in terms of free speech and free thinking, a freedom that makes each of us who we are, and that sets us apart from our animal friends. 

A concept that again seems so basilar that why we should even make a discussion about it? We tend to forget that the freedom that we enjoy today, it’s something that prior generations could not even dreamt about, is a freedom that came at a heavy price, and maybe this is the reason why we should start to ask ourselves and to other more questions, instead of banning whatever idea or thoughts that might be different from what has been categorized as the main core to follow.

I want to discuss this topic, to prove that this freedom still exists, but we need to keep in mind that times are changing together with the evolution of technology, and maybe things are not changing for the best (at the moment). We’re watching how social media companies with billions of users have changed their “Terms & Conditions” for accessing their networks, resulting in the banning of so much information and so many categories that it’s impossible to know what’s politically proper and what isn’t. 

Social Platforms are now legitimate to restrict you and your thoughts, marking individuals and ideas as bad or extreme, when there is nothing extreme going on (the stronger the attribute used, the stronger will be the acceptance for the decision taken by the platform). According to Freedom House, for the past 12 years, internet freedom has been eroding, culminating in a “record-breaking crackdown on online freedom of expression.”

You can ask why we are talking of ideology in a newsletter that should be about disruptive technologies? Well the main purpose of implementing disruptive technologies like Blockchains and services like the one provided by Bitcoin and Ethereum networks, is because they are decentralized and censor-free. Blockchain is not controlled by any central authority and it has only one duty, to serve its users at its best. 

The World Wide Web at its early beginning in 1999, had a vision to be a decentralized space unrestricted by any censorship that might be imposed by others. Regrettably it should have been foreseen that a worldwide expansion of free speech would have produced unintended damage. Because it’s obvious that the internet is used to spread truth and tolerance ideas but at the same time is also allowing the dissemination of lies and hate at a faster speed.

We have seen how who controls the media and the information is able to manipulate and control the way people think and (sometimes even) act. Tech companies, by selling our data to the highest bidder, are already serving us on a silver plate to whoever has something to sell that might interest us, according to the information that they bought. 

Why do you think the ads displayed while reading an article or when scrolling socials like Instagram or Meta are always able to perfectly target your daily needs? Google doesn’t hide that they are storing your data, but people don’t even wonder which data these companies are in possession of. By pressing this link you can check some of the info Google stores about you and how the ads sent are created ad hoc.

We are now at a moment in this digital era where there are two different opinions on how this fundamental right should be safeguarded and controlled for the prosperity of the whole community. There are these two perspectives which are very similar to the way democracy was being handled by the Greeks and by the Romans (let’s not forget that democracy in the way that is in place nowadays takes inspiration from these ancient periods).

  1. Anyone should have a voice, regardless of its status and education. In Athens every free male citizen had the right to speak and express opinions in any political decisions.
  2. Information and opinions should be spread only by authorized groups that ensure a safe distribution (with the wellbeing of the community in mind). Romans limited the possibility to talk and express their opinions only to small elites that were chosen for representing the people.

As a result we are now in a situation where Tech Platforms have been authorized to entitle themselves as the guarantors of content moderation, with the result that a massive amount of contents have just been deleted, blocked or not displayed at all.

Disastrously not all the content that have been removed are Neo Nazi or Violent Jihadis ideas, but in this moderation web fall also activists that were documenting (i.e.) the war in Syria, racial and sexual minorities who are trying to denounce their conditions or the more recent discrimination of all Russians regardless of their residence, occupation and opinion, based only on the citizenship factor (if we would have always thought like this and embraced this kind of approach after World War II Germany should have not existed any more from the actuals geo-political maps, and this pure discrimination makes those employing it no different from Putin).

The world’s most powerful media entity is Twitter, and Elon Musk, the richest person on Earth has offered to buy it, to unlock its true potential, and to make the platform censor-free. Of course Twitter, immediately counterattacked this proposal with the “poison pill” which allows twitter shareholders to buy more shares at a lower price diminishing in this way the percentage that Elon holds.

The crypto world that is against censorship by nature, has acclaimed this idea. The founder of Cardano Blockchain Charles Hoskinson offered his help to build a decentralized Twitter, as well the FTX Exchange’s CFO Sam Bankman-Fried applauded Elon on his decision and agreed that blockchain technology can really help to improve the “Broken Model” of social media. Even Robert Kyosaki, author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” joined the conversation to support Elon as the person who can make Twitter censor-free.

I think we are at a point in our history where Democracies around the world should push Big Techs to adopt and develop severe but just human rights standards that will ensure better moderation policies, and to contribute to the promotion and protection of free speech (I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it – Voltaire).

Here is where technology can really play its role, why not use open-source softwares, artificial intelligence and machine learning mechanisms able to scan and moderate people’s speeches with the goal to expose human rights violations, limiting the spread of disinformation, allowing agreement or disagreement without call upon hate. Free Speech should be something to be upheld universally rather than to be selectively invoked whenever it is easier to censor and not to take a real action.

For going back to Elon, I think that we need more entrepreneurs and problem solvers like him. I know that most of the people don’t like him, and this all propose may just sound crazy. But we are talking of Elon, the one who created reusable rockets able to land themselves. It seems that when Elon is involved in a project, anything might become possible.

Maybe he will really be able to help our society in some way. And the realization of a platform that will be decentralized and used according to the users’ needs is not anymore such a far dream, but slowly it may become a reality. It is obvious that we are still at an experimenting stage, where no one can guarantee what the outcome will be, but we should keep trying to create such a global platform where free speech is guaranteed and preserved, because results might be extraordinary once they are reached.

I want to close this article today with a phrase from 1945 of George Orwell: 

“If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it.
If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

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