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We are living in highly opinionated times. There are very few things that are not up for debate in the modern-day. This is most noticeable online. Internet discourse has a tendency to devolve into heated arguments, sometimes spilling over into harsh insults and inflammatory language. For this reason, internet arguments are well known to get toxic very quickly.
Some of this is due to the fact that the internet is a vast wealth of knowledge, meaning that answers to all our questions can be found in a matter of minutes (and oftentimes merely seconds). This, of course, is a beautiful thing, and a hallmark of the Information Age, a term most often associated with people’s ability to readily access such huge quantities of data.
However, a byproduct of having so much data at our fingertips is that we can find corroborating information for just aboutany belief we have. This has become especially prevalent through social media, as it allows anybody to both express their opinions and broadcast their experiences.
As a result, online discourse is riddled with a problem of polarization.
It is hard to find consensus on practically anything, and while healthy debate can be good, social media sites often become ideological battlegrounds, spanning cultural, sociological, political, and scientific topics. Such issues have been raised by the famous tech ethicist
But is this the only way things can be done? The internet is ever-changing, with decentralized blockchain technology becoming one of the most disruptive ideas in the world of computing. Is it possible that this technology could soothe our issues surrounding polarization? Perhaps, but not all blockchains are built to fix such behaviour.
Blockchain technology is often thought of as an off-shoot of the FinTech space, used to power cryptocurrency, but this is far from its only usage. Blockchains are also capable of distributing voting power and ensuring people’s voices are heard. Usually, this happens by staking tokens or utilizing expensive processing power, but this is not always the case. Proof-of-person blockchains (such as Idena) are able to provide users with voting rights on a per-person basis, all without users handing over sensitive data such as passports or photo IDs. Through a series of tests, a proof-of-person network can determine that somebody is human, and then create a unique account for them to use.
This would make it the perfect tool for trying to tackle polarization as it gives users the ability to vote, whilst also limiting them to one account per person, and banishing bot accounts. This is called Sybil-resistance. Let’s examine why this is so important.
Once users are limited to one vote at a time, you can then create Sybil-resistant online polls, elections, and referendums which reflect the true feelings of a community. This creates a space for people to determine how popular an idea is compared to its counterparts, giving real-world insights into what people think. Polls already exist on social media, but the number of duplicate voters and bot accounts always skew the results. PoP blockchains like Idena would prevent this, making polls more accurate.
An important result of this is that it will also allow communities to see just how polarizing an idea is, as it can be very hard to find out how popular something is online as the loudest voices are not always representative of the majority. This might even foster the perfect conditions for people to investigate the opposing side of many discussions and discover what can be learned. Sometimes a synthesis between two positions can be found, bringing peace among participants.
Plus, if everybody is tied to one digital account, then it discourages people from lying, using hate speech, and being otherwise malicious. Even if everybody’s social media accounts were pseudonymous (meaning they do not include their faces or real-world names), the fact that a digital shadow would live on encourages people to think before they speak/write.
Let’s look further into bot and duplicate accounts. Not only do these accounts alter the result of social media votes, but they also write and promote polarizing content themselves. People who have their own unsavoury agendas can use bots and additional accounts to poison discourses by flooding platforms with a slew of content that is designed to enrage or convince other people. This is something
Another method of reducing polarization is by limiting the voices of those who sully the online discourse. In web2, this is referred to as de-platforming– it is where somebody gets banned from broadcasting their ideas somewhere. The most famous example of this is when Donald Trump was removed from
Ironically, this decision was, itself, highly polarizing. Many people thought it was a necessary move to prevent online discourse from further decaying, whereas others considered it an exploitation of power by centralized bodies.
If something like this was to happen on a web3 network, it would likely work a little differently than what we saw. When Trump was de-platformed, it was done without any voting or consensus from the platform’s userbase. On a social media network running inside Idena’s ecosystem, the removal of such voices would probably happen via users of that network voting on it. Perhaps a supermajority of votes would even be needed (such as 75% or more) to match the seriousness. Technically, this would be less like de-platforming, and more like exile, where particularly nasty and abhorrent users would essentially lose their access and rights within the network. You could even say they would lose their digital citizenship, as their
It will not be easy to un-polarize the internet. Not only does it require a change to the technologies used, but it also requires a change to the way we interact with those technologies. Creating a web3 social media network with a Proof-of-Person blockchain is a great way to begin this journey. By distributing power equally and allowing for democratic voting, it gives users a basis for finding consensus amongst themselves, as well as a means of truly seeing how the community thinks and feels. This makes it perfect for the future, as it is strikingly clear that current-day social media is ill-equipped to handle calm and intelligible online discourse.