Decentralization Offers a Way out of the Social Media Content Wars

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Thursday brought another politically charged installment of “a tale of two hearings” about online content moderation in the House of Representatives.

Republicans scolded big tech CEO’s about taking too much content down while Democrats complained to them about not taking enough content down. While there is little hope for magical legislation that would simultaneously correct and protect all thoughts and opinions online, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey did provide what might be a real solution to many of the criticisms and avoid harmful government regulations: a new generation of decentralized social media.

Various proposals to regulate these platforms would harm free speech, chill innovation, and give the large incumbents a distinct advantage over nascent or yet-to-be-invented competitors. But the promise of technological innovation to solve the problems of existing social media platforms is already taking shape. Dorsey testified about Twitter’s investment in a decentralized approach called Bluesky, but similar approaches are already available to consumers in the form of Mastodon, Steem, and many others.

These new apps could compete with or eventually even replace Facebook, Twitter, and Parler. Decentralized social media has a different infrastructure with no central server. It works similarly to, but not exactly like, the music sharing service Napster used to. No company controls the site. The users themselves control content moderation. Some platforms will likely use cryptocurrency to promote and reward content. The apps are decentralized via blockchain technology to varying degrees and there will be no way for either big tech or big government to de-platform them.

That’s good news for consumers worried about the bias of a handful of tech companies and users concerned about the harmful consequences of government regulation. As long as Congress doesn’t get in the way of these new technologies by banning strong encryption, regulating cryptocurrencies like a security, or locking today’s social media giants into place with regulations that act as barriers to entry, consumers on both the left and right can look forward to the next generation of online platforms improving on those of today. The market can provide solutions if politicians can stay out of its way.