Facebook’s been in the news a lot lately, and not for good reasons. To sum up, Mark Zuckerberg’s juggernaut is working with foreign agents to undermine American democracy, censoring any view to the right of Barbara Streisand, while gathering every bit of data on your life, up to and including what brand of toothpaste you tucked in your suitcase on your last business trip. This has led many to seek alternatives: are there social media outlets you can use that don’t come straight out of 1984?
For example, many are now looking to MeWe, which promises to be the anti-Facebook social network. But there’s an underlying problem in alternatives like MeWe. Although it might not currently invade your privacy or sell your data to the highest bidder or censor views unpopular with the Leftist elite, there’s no reason to believe that will remain true. What happens when the government starts leaning on MeWe executives to stamp out “Fake News?” And what do you really think those executives will do if offered trunkfuls of money from advertisers for your personal data? Switching from Facebook to MeWe simply kicks the can down the road.
Thinking Outside the Box
I have a solution that avoids this problem, but admittedly, it might sound a bit “out there.” It’s Bitcoin. Well, not exactly Bitcoin, but the underlying technology that makes Bitcoin possible. You might ask: isn’t Bitcoin just trying to be money? How on earth can it create an alternative to Facebook? It comes down to one word: decentralization.
Before continuing, let me give a quick primer on Bitcoin (for a more detailed look, check out my book on the topic). Bitcoin is digital money. It allows you to send value quickly and easily over the internet—as easy as sending an email. For many years people tried to create a digital currency, but they always ran into the same problem: double-spending. I can send an email to someone, copy it, and then send it again to someone else. That’s no problem with email, but it’s a deal-breaker for money. If I can send 5 bitcoins to Alice, then send those same 5 bitcoins to Bob, the money is worthless.
Bitcoin solved this problem with something called a “decentralized ledger.” (Bear with me, I’m almost finished with the boring technical part.) Essentially, thousands of computers throughout the world keep a copy of a ledger of every transaction. If someone tries to double-spend bitcoins, then this network of computers will reject the transaction, since the ledger tells the computers that those bitcoins have already been spent. Problem solved.
But for our purposes, how this is done is less interesting than who is doing it. It’s not a single corporation managing a bank of servers. It’s anyone and everyone. If you want to run one of these computers on the Bitcoin network, all you need to do is install the software. Thus, we say the network is “decentralized”; i.e., no single entity owns or controls it.
Decentralize All the Things
Since the advent of Bitcoin nine years ago, others have realized that this technology can be used in a lot of different ways. How about a Dropbox-like service, where files are stored on encrypted drives around the world? Or a video-sharing service like YouTube in which the videos are stored throughout the world on thousands of computers? (By the way, both of these examples are currently in development). In both cases, there is no centralized company controlling what files are stored, or what videos are shared. Censorship becomes impossible.
Further, using decentralized technology you could create a social network, much like Facebook. However, in this case no one would be in control of what is posted on the network. Mark Zuckerberg would not be in control of what news you see (or don’t see). Such technology is censorship-proof.
One note of caution: I mean it when I say that this technology would be truly censorship-proof. This means anything would theoretically be allowed. If you want to conduct a drug deal on such a network, the network itself has no way to stop you (there’s no reason, of course, that police wouldn’t be able to do stings on this network). But any political view—not just ones deemed politically correct—could be promoted. It would be an Orwellian Leftist’s nightmare that would send him scurrying to his safe spaces (like Facebook).
Going forward, the choice is between centralized services like Facebook or decentralized ones. Most people, despite their protestations, likely will prefer a centralized service. Such services seem “safer,” for they disallow obviously illegal activities. However, as we are starting to see, in the long term centralized services end up being tools used by those in power to control those under them. What happens when “obviously illegal activities” includes the practice of Christianity? Are centralized services really safer?
Postscript: It would be the height of irony if Facebook were one day overthrown by a service using Bitcoin-based technology. As most know, in the early days of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was accused by the Winklevoss twins of stealing the idea from them. Today, the Winklevoss twins are Bitcoin billionaires, having invested heavily in the cryptocurrency in its early days.