Freedom vs. Censorship
I remember listening to a news story in 1993 on NPR about how a previously scientific and educational global network called ARPANET was being opened up for commercial use. I thought to myself- this is going to change the world. I had a 386 PC at the time running Microsoft Windows 3.1, with a 2400 baud modem, and was very familiar with the world of dial-up bulletin board systems (BBS's), and the larger networks like CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online, all of which I tried out to see what they had to offer. Early systems like Usenet and Email allowed inexpensive global communication and the exchange of ideas and information that would come to revolutionize the world as we knew it.
In 1997, my friends and I founded the fourth Internet Service Provider in Evansville, Indiana, and we grew it into a business that helped thousands of people take their first steps onto the Internet and many businesses launch their first web sites so they could present their products and services to the world. At that time, finding quality web sites could be challenging. While there were some search engines like Altavista and Lycos, and directories like Yahoo, when Google came along, it revolutionized search. Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed their "page rank" algorithm to use automated systems to search and organize the information on the Internet more efficiently than humans could, and they made using the Internet and finding useful information much easier and simpler than the competition, and thus began the meteoric rise of Google. In the year 2000, Google cemented their ideals into their corporate motto: "don't be evil."
I believed strongly then, and I still do today, that the Internet has provided the greatest democratization of information that has occurred throughout the history of mankind. Anyone can share information with the world, be it literary works, videos, scientific knowledge, medical research, or recipes. This has resulted in a period during which the pace of innovation throughout the world has multiplied several fold, and it has become difficult for governments or political powers to censor or stifle opposition. It is said that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that is applicable to governments as well. Not long after Gorbachev's perestroika took hold, the Soviet Union collapsed upon it's own weight, no longer able to use censorship, violence, and intimidation to hold their empire together. We have been blessed in the United States with the First Amendment, backed up by the Second Amendment, that ensures that we are free to speak our minds and the government cannot legally quash our speech. This situation is unique in the world, as today we see formerly free nations such as Canada, Britain, and Australia arresting and imprisoning citizens for merely speaking their minds.
While the American government cannot overtly censor speech, there has existed a relationship between the handful of media networks and the government that has often resulted in a very controlled narrative throughout the twentieth century. Newspapers, radio, and TV networks, owned by a relatively small number of media moguls, often relied heavily on government sources for information and rarely gave voice to individuals who did not fit into that narrative. Additionally, journalists tended to be groomed through higher education, which received much of it's funding from government sources, to value big government and academia over free market solutions and ideals. This skewed narrative shaped the perceptions of voters which skewed the direction of elections. In a republican system such as the United States, free speech is critical to our system of government. Every side of an issue must be free to express their views, and squelching speech and controlling narratives can have damaging effects on society. The arrival of the Internet changed this, shaking up much of the media landscape, and giving voice to the masses. Even some old media stalwarts like John Stossel saw the error of his ways, realizing that government cannot and should not be the solution to every problem, and today he's one of the loudest proponents of freedom. YouTube, which was later purchased by Google, gave voice to millions of people to easily create and share videos - providing an alternative global platform. People now had a choice and were able to gain insight and knowledge into areas outside of the big media and government narratives. Facebook supplanted Myspace and gave people a simple way to connect with friends, regardless of geographical boundaries, and share news and information. We experienced an unprecedented era of open information exchange and freedom.
As if on cue, to represent their change of morality, Google rescinded it's motto, "don't be evil" in 2015. In the following few years, Google has become increasingly aggressive in censoring, de-listing, down-ranking, de-monetizing, and otherwise suppressing content that it deems to be contrary to its leftist political views. To give some idea as to how far skewed Google's internal culture has become from reality, an engineer named James Damore was terminated by Google in 2018 for suggesting that, based on his experience in biology, men and women think differently and make different choices, and that may be the reason why there are more male engineers at Google, and that sexism and discrimination may not be to blame. Facebook has also taken draconian measures to restrict, ban, and limit ideas and views that violate increasingly vague and arbitrary policies. This centralized control and censorship is precisely what big media had been doing for decades through tight editorial controls. It's all about the narrative, and what speech they deem "acceptable." Youtube now penalizes discussion of "sensitive subjects" and many famous channels have been altogether removed, or demonetized for simply expressing political views that run contrary to Google's views. Some examples are Project Veritas, Louder with Crowder, Prager U, Dave Rubin, Milo Yiannopolis, Infowars, and many others. According to Merk Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, they censor "anything that makes people feel unsafe" which is obviously an extraordinarily broad policy, to censor content based solely on the feelings of others who may read it. Clearly, these large platforms have forgotten their roots, and are doing everything within their power to censor content that they simply don't like. Platforms which were designed to operate within tightly controlled walled gardens, such as Apple, AOL, and Yahoo, among others, have always been surpassed by those who supported open ecosystems and gave users the most choice of hardware, software, and information. Google and Facebook, among others, have apparently forgotten this lesson.
Is this the beginning of the end of freedom on the Internet? Well, not quite. You see, the big tech companies have forgotten that their users are the basis of their power, and they don't really offer anything unique that can't be offered in a different or better way by someone else. Users can, rather quickly, abandon a flailing platform. Remember Myspace? They're also not taking into account the upcoming block-chain revolution. Block-chain is a distributed database system that operates across a peer to peer network, with everyone sharing the same records. When setup appropriately, there is no centralized control of a block-chain network, and there is effectively no way to censor it, and in that way, it represents the core value of the Internet itself - the freedom to exchange information. This is the basis for Bitcoin, and other crypto-currencies and distributed applications. Decentralized and distributed block-chain based systems will likely provide the social networks and information sharing platforms of the future, leaving Google and Facebook, among others, in the dust, with their outdated centralized platforms. The free exchange of information and choice always wins against centrally controlled walled gardens. Eventually, technology companies will learn this lesson - the hard way, if necessary.
One company, LBRY aka "Library" - which can be found at www.lbry.com - has created just such a platform, which may ultimately replace YouTube. It's a block-chain-based peer-to-peer open source video sharing platform. They actually created their own lbry protocol and crypto-currency, allowing direct "tips" paid to content creators with no middle men, unlike YouTube. The app, which runs on most platforms, allows you to search for video content, view it, subscribe to channels, and publish your own videos. It even allows YouTube channel creators to easily copy their channel content to LBRY. They are working on a web app so it will be more familiar to those used to accessing sites like YouTube via a web browser. The genius behind LBRY is that while they are a US-based company, subject to such things as DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) copyright claims to potentially de-list videos, the network is not. In other words, LBRY can be compelled to de-list content from it's apps, but that does not affect, in any way, the underlying lbry protocol, user libraries, or the block-chain metadata. In other words, those videos are still available to anyone using the lbry protocol and block-chain using another lbry-based third party app. In this manner, it's a truly de-centralized system, designed to foster the free sharing of information - just like the Internet itself.
Likewise, there are multiple social media platforms that are vying to compete with Facebook. Many are block-chain based and contain a similar token or crypto-currency system. Some of these contenders are Minds, AllSocial, MeWe, Gab, etc.
The arrogance and censorship exerted by big tech firms are driving users from their platforms and to newer and better platforms, more consistent with the Internet's values of freedom and openness, not centralization and control. Adam Smith's invisible hand is at work yet again, directing the free market to meet the needs and desires of the people.