Immutable Opinions on the Blockchain: Circumventing Centralized Censorship
For the modern content creator, tapping multiple revenue streams through platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, and Patreon are seen as an essential practice in a largely saturated, competitive, and insecure market. That said, content creators, or providers for that matter, may say or do something disagreeable that can result in them being deplatformed from one or more of their income sources, suggesting that censorship is alive and well in the digital economy.
It can be argued that websites and platforms that are chained to the ethical leanings of their stakeholders and advertisers have little say in who can or can’t operate within their system, as the market often dictates. But it can also be argued that private entities are controlling the narrative by silencing contentious voices, regardless of their worth.
With free speech at risk in an increasingly politicized world, online personalities are being booted from social media as well as having their revenue streams cut away, which in turn has opened up the market for censorship-free platforms such as BitPatron, who are utilizing the immutable benefits of blockchain and Bitcoin to circumvent commercial and government restrictions.
The question is, however, should there be limitations on opinion as imposed by private entities, and if so, where do communities draw the line as a hyper-connected society?
At some point, the internet became highly-politicized. Eventualities occurring in the fathoms of digital space were beginning to be taken quite seriously, with the most obvious example of this being Twitter’s ever-growing synonymy with mainstream news.
The innumerable voices that populate web platforms began to have their voices bleed into social discourse, whether citizens liked it or not. As such, internet commentary has managed to penetrate reality and now there are real-world consequences for our online actions as well as our expressed opinions.
Prior to the explosion of modern social media, in the very early days of the internet, discussions held on forums and message boards were, at the time, a free space for thought without any real threat of repercussion. But it would only be a matter of time before advertisers had held something of a monopoly over websites who were endlessly vying for precious advertising revenue.
A notable instance of such a matter was when the legendary YouTube “Adpocalypse” struck around 2017, and perhaps for the first time, displayed the iron-vice grip that advertisers had on the content creators.
Several incredibly controversial events took place on YouTube that caused advertisers to leave or demonetize content with the most impactful event being the PewDiePie scandal. Being the most subscribed YouTuber, PewDiePie has an extremely huge audience in the tens of millions. So it came as little surprise that when he dropped the “N-Word” during a video game stream, advertisers and other commercial affiliations cut ties, despite his apologies.
This was perhaps the canary in the coal mine of what has snowballed into what some consider to be the now politically correct internet.
Whereas PewDiePie outright said a profanity in the worst context possible, others such as Carl Benjamin, aka Sargon of Akkad, utilized the term in what has been described as a “sloppy use of language” by podcaster Joe Rogan, but should not have resulted in him being banned from Patreon as his transgression can be examined with nuance without the need to deplatform him.
Following this, Patreon experienced an exodus of some sorts, with highly subscribed accounts such as Sam Harris leaving the platform, accusing Patreon of “political bias.”
Others such as Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin also followed in the wake of the scandal, with both now opting to accept bitcoin payments, which is significant considering their adamant stances on free-speech and pursuit of a creating a new platform.
In a YouTube video they said:
“I’ve been working on a system for months to allow authors and other people who engage publicly on intellectual issues to interact more effectively with their readers, viewers, and listeners. It occurred to me this week that could serve this function. We are going to try to set this system up on a subscriber model that is analogous to Patreon.”
Carl Benjamin eventually moved to SubscribeStar, another crowdfunding/subscription platform. Though instead of the individuals being shut-down, SubscribeStar itself was at the mercy of monetary gatekeepers when PayPal pulled its services from the platform, forcing SubscribeStar to explore and implement cryptocurrency payment options, further signaling the demand for decentralization.
Earlier in January this year, Dave Rubin Tweeted:
Positioning itself firmly in the center of the storm as a solution, BitPatron is offering up a blockchain-bolstered alternative that accepts bitcoin and is presently in its alpha phase.
According to the website, BitPatron will “never” ban its creators for “opinions of political views” which in and of itself is a courageous notion at best. Whilst offering total ownership and control over the users content, it also leverages Blockstack’s technology to decentralize content uploaded to its servers and grant total control to the content creators.
BitPatron’s business model.
Though that said, a BitPatron spokesperson told Bitcoin Magazine that the platform isn’t quite an “anything goes” platform, saying:
“For now, we are planning to monitor and block only in extreme cases, such as illegal pornography, threats or calls for violence, or terrorism-related content.”
“That’s why we are considering blockchain platforms that would allow users to self-host their content and be responsible for it. […] We want to remain a platform for every voice, which is, in our opinion, a far greater task than monitoring ‘hate speech.’ We therefore need to make sure that the platform remains interesting for voices of the entire spectrum.”
These comments carry even more weight with the latest scandal involving child abuse images being uploaded onto a blockchain, bringing in to question the moral and ethical principles of blockchain technology in an instance that took the industry by surprise.
For better or worse, BitPatron is walking a fine grey line between liberty and censorship. By offering a censorship-free platform, it encourages freedom of thought and speech, which is something that many civilizations are built upon.
That said, the right to free-speech is synonymous with the threat of groups or individuals who could take advantage of that right, and amass a following of anonymous donors to potentially fund hateful and harmful activity.
With extremist views and reportedly on the rise and internet freedom in decline, the role of blockchain may not offer a solution to the problem, but perhaps position itself as a middle ground from which the topic will sprout new discussion, debate, and solutions.