Freedom of speech is facing a very dark hour globally. Countries under dictatorship suffer from global isolation and political powerlessness as they completely lack access to accurate, independent media. Nations like Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, and North Korea experience governments which do not tolerate negative statements about their regimes, do not allow non-state media to broadcast, and limit the internet access of their citizens.
“People in these countries are virtually isolated from the rest of the world by authoritarian rulers who muzzle the media and keep a chokehold on information through restrictive laws, fear, and intimidation,” Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said.
To make matters worse, existing methods for evading censorship have failed activists in their most dire hour, with major players like Tor, Amazon, and Google crumbling.
Blockchain technology is advancing just in time to offer the first truly private, incorruptible means of communication when it is most sorely needed. In order to understand this amazing potential, let’s take a look at why traditional communication methods have collapsed and how blockchain can uniquely meet those challenges.
In a world where independent journalism and safe channels of communication are rapidly eroding, blockchain could be the last bastion of free speech.
Current systems have failed
For some time, many activists struggling under totalitarian regimes could communicate freely via an internet proxy loophole tactic called domain fronting, which concealed the true target of internet communications by routing them through a third party website, such as Amazon or Google. The only way governments could stop the use of such tactics would be to block all traffic to those major websites, which could cause riots.
However, in May, Amazon and Google closed the loophole that enabled domain fronting. Widespread anger erupted at the removal of this important tool for those seeking free speech avenues. Even US senators Ron Wyden and Marco Rubio penned a letter in outrage.
But no one can force private companies to help the oppressed, and so for the most part, they don’t. Amazon cited security woes as their reason for closing their loophole, and their concerns might be valid, at least in part. Cybersecurity giant FireEye recently reported that domain fronting was one technique Russian hackers used to allegedly tamper with US elections.
Furthermore, even seemingly “secure” platforms can be controlled and manipulated, which became shockingly clear when it was revealed that “independent” communication network Tor was actually funded by the US government, was a registered US contractor, and was subject to oversight by the government. Communication networks that are centrally controlled are vulnerable to being turned into a tool of the very power structures they claimed to have resisted.
Why blockchain works
In order for a mode of communication to successfully promote free speech, it has to follow two basic rules:
-Submitted content can’t be tampered with or removed by a third party
-Content needs to be protected from surveillance, especially to prevent political retaliation for controversial submissions
Blockchain meets both of these conditions. Content stored on a blockchain cannot be modified retroactively, because of the nature of decentralized data storage: thousands of copies of the original data exist to prevent any potential tampering. Blockchain also resists surveillance, by rewarding independent users (miners) for running its infrastructure. Companies can be pressured, threatened or bribed for access. Thousands of anonymous miners cannot.
You can see this theory in action if you look at the recent case reported by Slate on of Chinese students using blockchain to overcome censorship imposed by their university. When one of their classmates was sexually assaulted by a professor and subsequently killed herself, students rallied to expose the scandal and seek redress. The university refused to address the outcry, and employed online censors to remove online discussions of the issue from popular Chinese social media and chat platforms. Students turned to blockchain – embedding letters on the topic into transactions on the Ethereum blockchain. Because blockchain transactions are irreversible and distributed across the network, their information cannot be removed or altered, so censors could not stop this method of communication.
There is still technology that needs to be developed to further facilitate operations like these, but this is a strong demonstration of the kind of unhindered, unregulated expression possible with blockchain for the public good.
The catch: balacinging privacy with anonymity
The problem is that the blockchain projects emerging so far treat privacy as all or nothing. They either provide complete anonymity or are completely open.
If a project is totally open, you run the obvious risks of exposing sensitive information, from dissenting political views, to the settlement of medical or legal bills.
But if a project is totally anonymous, like Monero, ZCash, or Dash, it purposefully focuses on providing an exceptional store of value, however it does not allow third parties to deploy their own brands of confidential services, and is frowned upon by regulators.
What’s needed is a communication platform that secures regulatory compliance when it comes to any transfers of asset ownership, but maintains full confidentiality when it comes to speech.
The future of free speech
When giants like Amazon and Google fail, where do the desperate and oppressed turn? We’ve already seen that centralized platforms are vulnerable to their own internal concerns, security threats, corruption, and bias.
Decentralization is the only answer to the growing threat to free speech. Blockchain can free muzzled individuals around the world. The blockchain revolution is upon us, and with it, humanity might finally achieve true freedom of expression.