Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech
from the my-new-article dept
For many years now, I’ve talked about why so many of the problems that face the current internet could be understood by looking at how we moved from an internet dominated by open protocols to one dominated by central platforms — and I continue to note that many of those problems could be solved by moving back to open protocols (with some modern additions). I first raised this idea nearly five years ago, when people were first debating how internet platforms should moderate toxic speech. It came up again last summer in the context of the various fights over “deplatforming” certain individuals. I mentioned it, yet again, earlier this year in noting that this would be the most effective way to truly create competition and “break up” the big internet platforms.
I’ve hinted that I was working on a longer paper about this, and I’m happy to note that the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has now published that essay, entitled: Protocols, Not Platforms: A Technological Approach to Free Speech. It’s a part of a new essay series the Institute has just published, called Free Speech Futures, in which various scholars and experts “reimagine” the 1st Amendment.
The article is long, but I wanted to be fairly thorough in explaining what I’m talking about — and highlighting what might go wrong as well. As I note early on:
This article proposes an entirely different approach?one that might seem counterintuitive but might actually provide for a workable plan that enables more free speech, while minimizing the impact of trolling, hateful speech, and large-scale disinformation efforts. As a bonus, it also might help the users of these platforms regain control of their privacy. And to top it all off, it could even provide an entirely new revenue stream for the platforms.
That approach: build protocols, not platforms.
I don’t know that this is the right solution. I don’t know that it will work. But I do think it makes a lot more sense than almost every other proposed idea right now, most of which seem likely to simply lock in today’s dominant players under a heavily regulated regime that likely stifles many potentially more innovative services, while similarly locking in the idea that we need to let the big internet companies “protect” our privacy. My idea would actually take the various internet providers out of the privacy protection business altogether, and move us to a world where the ends of the network (the users) have much more power and control, protected by encryption and better tools for managing our own privacy. Indeed, it even suggests possibilities for business models that don’t rely on “surveillance” to work.
At a time when so many proposals for how to deal with the big internet companies seem focused on spite and anger at those companies, rather than thoughtful discussions of how we get to what’s coming next, at the very least I’m hopeful that others can be inspired by this paper to come up with their own ideas for a better, more proactive approach to a future internet.