Fixing the Internet Before Breaking Democracy
By Zee Ali on ALTCOIN MAGAZINE
If the Internet were a country, it would have the largest population on earth. More than 3 billion people, about half of humanity, are browsing the Internet. That user base has no precedent in the history of American technology. Thirty years after it was founded by Tim Berners-Lee as the World Wide Web, the Internet has as many adherents as people who believe in God.
By collecting vast amounts of data and information about users, the Internet enabled the ability to target people with precision, a business model that earned companies like Facebook more ad revenue in a year than all American newspapers combined. It’s evolution has led to leaders like Elon Musk, who began testing a “global broadband” system in 2015 called Starlink, with the objective of building a low-cost, satellite-based broadband network capable of delivering Internet access to the entire globe. Beyond just Musk, Mark Zuckerberg has focused on developing plans like giant drones that would beam free Internet into developing countries. As chairman and CEO of Facebook, the Internet has gained him a fortune of more than sixty billion dollars. Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple dominate the Internet, with a combined value that is far greater than the GDP of France.
The Internet has enabled a greater freedom of expression, facilitating people’s ability to challenge, promote or criticize issues, echoing a basic democratic right. The digital age has empowered people, making them more knowledgeable and informed. We must, however, be careful. The modern, Internet approach is not straightforward. The government must be in a position to guarantee communication while ensuring that privacy is not violated. For years, the Internet has had security concerns about the use of private data on various platforms and its ability to shape people’s behavior.
A growing body of research has begun to voice misgivings about the Internet and social media’s role in exacerbating isolation, depression, and addictive behaviors. Last year, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that followed Facebook use of more than five thousand people over three years and found that the higher the use of this social media platform, the higher the decline in physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction.
In 2017, Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president reflected on the forthcoming age of social media, saying, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” In that same time, former VP of Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, told an audience, “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops are destroying how society works — no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth.”
Beyond just social media, in this digital age, every communication technology alters governance and political processes. Democracy is packaged and sold on television by the very same professionals who package and sell other commodities. In mass media, the amount of money a candidate spends on television advertising is the single most important influence in the success of the electoral process. The “public sphere” is part of public life where ordinary people exchange information and opinions regarding topics like national elections or foreign policy. This democratic revolution was incubated for citizens to argue about how to govern amongst themselves, without a “King”. Public governance emerged from public opinion. The problem with this method is that a small number of people have molded communication technology to become public opinion of entire populations.
Internet technology has created political opportunities, ranging from democratic decision-making by online communities to amplifying the Internet to mobilize large populations towards effecting social change. The Internet is transforming socio-political behavior and influencing political agendas and debate. Change is occurring on a variety of political fronts. In South Korea, online campaigns have affected presidential elections and shifted several policies. However, the question is, what exactly is occurring while the Internet is beginning to destroy professional politics and the values the Internet disseminates are racism, nationalism, and conformity of thought? Powerful countries like China and Russia have used the Internet to mislead the public, creating illusions of mass support or exposing particular targets. How do we proceed with a solution that balances freedom of speech, yet prevents destruction of our democracy?
Our democratic system of government is based on the philosophy that makes citizens as part of the decision making process, increasing the chances of reaching the best possible decision. The Greek term “democracy” means “rule by people”. A democracy is the most successful political idea of the 20th century, but in the 21st century it appears that democracies are encountering major challenges. With the onset of internet technologies, democracies are too often associated with social polarization, political radicalization, and corrupt administrations. A democracy is a powerful, but imperfect mechanism. To reach its best potential, the system must operate in good working order.
The good news is that advanced technologies, like blockchain technology, offers a cure that is already available. Blockchain technology, linked and protected by cryptography, has the potential to revolutionize the democratic process in the digital era. This presents a system that uses formalized governance mechanisms rather than informal discussions online. The push for “on-chain” governance, in large part, implicitly defines the need to build better mechanisms for “voice” and “exit” via formal on-chain governance. Citizens of a country can respond to political issues by emigrating (exit) or protesting (voice). Employees can quit their job (exit), or manage a situation (voice). In crypto networks, users can change protocol’s through governance (voice), or exit by leaving the network. Revolutions would happen in the form of “forking” the network. Revolutions would not end the same way as real-world revolutions would because it would be a battle of “information” as opposed to a battle between people.
Some companies are already beginning to use properties of cryptocurrency transactions to reimagine the voting process — whether that’s a corporate shareholder or an electoral process. A blockchain transaction can represent a vote, carrying with it all of the properties that make a cryptocurrency transaction trustworthy. It’s based on a decentralized system, immutable, irreversible, accountable and transparent, ultimately delivering unprecedented levels of trust. The impacts on democracy are staggering, votes would be virtually impossible to tamper with, generating incredible levels of accuracy around elections. This provides citizens with operational viability and the capital, through cryptography, to tackle impactful societal issues.
The concept of a decentralized internet offers an alternative to combat social media issues. By utilizing a private ledger, companies can better track user interaction with content, enabling quantification of user worth on the network, therefore compensating and rewarding people for their activity. Mammoth Technologies, a company founded on the premise of fixing the downfalls of the Internet and social media by generating in-app value and real-world economic value, is at the forefront of leading social change by reconnecting humanity through decentralizing rewards. Any individual can complete a set of tasks that fulfill the need in the brain to feel rewarded and to satisfy dopamine loops. This concept is customized for a variety of industries, with healthcare at the forefront, and investors can ideally have incentive to participate in the Mammoth ecosystem by earning value through utilization of its currency. This incentive model ensures success by inviting investors to buy tokens and bet on the volatility of their underlying value instead of socio-political shortcomings that impact an entire community.
Technology is a powerful tool during this critical time to reinvent the government for a new era of legitimacy and trust. It is possible to encourage productive, meaningful online connections without regulating speech itself. Merely connecting people on the Internet is not enough to truly enable freedom, but with the emergence of advanced technologies, the Internet is a fantastic tool for democracy. A stronger public sphere will emerge in concert with a strong free press, transparent institutions, and old-fashioned democratic values of interacting with your neighbors face-to-face, rather than their social media accounts.
Zeenat Ali, Chairman and CEO at Mammoth Technologies, mammothtech.io, has presented bills to congress in reforming governance, using the concept of decentralization as a solution. Zee has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Variety Magazine, and CSPAN.