Michael Smolenski

@mikesmolenski

The Silencing of Digital Voices: Crowdfunding’s Censorship Problem

Crowdfunding platforms have their share of censorship controversies. In December, a flurry of account deactivations called attention to the fragility of trying to earn a living on the platforms.

Patreon’s predicament

The content funding site, Patreon, first booted British user Carl Benjamin, who used anti-feminist, anti-Islamic, and homophobic language in his political commentary. According to New York Times journalist Nellie Bowles, the site referenced its terms of service, which forbade denigrating language against others. In spite of good intentions, the ban sparked accusations of censorship and political bias. Seeming to embrace its role policing language on its platform, Patreon removed the account of Milo Yiannopoulos later that week.

Patreon tweeted that the account violated hate-speech rules, and Business Insider reported that Yiannopoulos’ was also barred for affiliation with Proud Boys, which Patreon terms a hate group. Yiannopoulos is best known for right-wing politics and views that also espouse anti-feminism and anti-Islam. Multiple other content producers suffered similar fates during recent takedowns.

Platforms, where content-makers make a living, have weathered increasing scrutiny that they have outsised control over content-makers’ views. Not only do they actively censor politically unpopular speech, as was the case in this independent journalist’s coverage of Mediterranean NGO migrant rescue ships, but they hold the purse-strings to those users’ careers, controlling access to accounts, followers, funds, and data.

Funds are particularly linked to content censorship, with payment processor rules dictating who and what can be said on the platforms and who can access funds. One Patreon employee confirms that payment processors make decisions about which kind of content is monetisable on their platform, stating that, “We’ve been ramping up the proactive review of content on Patreon due to requirements from our payment processors.” In this case, adult content was the target.

Patreon alternatives?

Alternatives are in the works. Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto who works against political correctness and has a large following on YouTube, says he will create a crowdfunding platform that does not censor. The site would use a subscription model, as Patreon does, but there has been no announcement yet about the ways in which a new platform would work with payment processing companies to allow access to funds for all users.

Ultimately, all of the crowdfunding and content creation platforms maintain control of the content posted by users and the ability to deactivate accounts and livelihoods at any time.

For a truly censorship-free content universe, a new approach is needed.

Ensuring Open Speech for All on Crowdfunding Platforms

Centralised platforms have expressed that they do not remove accounts easily and without cause.

Patreon CEO Jack Conte posted a YouTube video in which he says, “The authority to take away a person’s income is a sobering responsibility. It is not something to be done on a whim.” The sentiment is noble, but the December takedowns reinforce that platforms do have and use that responsibility. They control content on their platforms. While takedowns may not happen on a whim, they do seem to happen in conjunction with pressure from payment processors, political pressures, and the internal views of a team of employees with their own policies and objectives.

A company attempting to create alternatives would have to remove themselves from control of account content, but also from partnerships with other organisations attempting to limit their affiliation with controversial content producers.

Decentralisation

At Lightstreams, we believe that decentralisation is the only way to solve the problem of controversial maker censorship. Where the devolution of control is handed to the communities in order to moderate the content they consume.

With centralised authorities, the responsibility to patrol platform speech is overwhelming. What platform creators say impacts the reputation and the responsibilities, both legally and ethically, of the platform itself, bringing insurmountable pressure to the decisions of who to welcome.

Platforms are giving voice to makers on their platforms, and as such, they cannot extricate themselves from responsibility and authority over those voices. A decentralised platform is censorship-free.

A New Revenue Model is Needed

Centralised content platforms cannot operate independently of payment processors. In order to actualise a content platform where all are welcome and can thrive, an independent system for payment strategy is required. Because decentralised solutions can include their own currencies, they can bring a new revenue model to the system which resists censorship.

Further, the new revenue model of localised currencies allows revenue to flow to content-makers based on their relationship directly with their users, fans and followers. Instead of a central platform holding the keys to a content maker’s reputation, the relationship is unmediated, as is the sponsorship. Decentralisation keeps capital between maker and consumer without the platform controlling access and payments. Since Bitcoin’s original 2008 white paper, the idea of decentralisation of revenue model has proven that mathematics, and not a central authority, can create a revenue model based on trust that works for producers as well as consumers.

Meeting the Needs of Diverse Community Groups

Because decentralised systems can be more responsive to the needs of users, they encourage more participation and allow a broader range of voices to be heard than centralised platforms.

As platforms like Patreon lose the far right, the adult industry, and other groups, the political dialogue they bring to a complex society is also lost. Those with the privilege to speak have less and less to say as arguments vanish from the platform. In order to have a debate that reflects the richness of a culture, the entire culture must be incentivised to participate. This is possible in a decentralised environment but not in an environment with censorship.

Readers, too, lose out with centralisation. They can only read and consume content that is approved by the gatekeepers. If they are not interested in that narrow band of voices, they too, leave the community.

Lightstreams, Fanbase, and the Future of Open Content

Fanbase, an application initially developed for the music industry by the Lightstreams team, demonstrates what the advantages of uncensored content development could look like.

The app allows musicians and bands to connect directly with fans and offer exclusive content, just as artists on platforms like Patreon currently do through a subscription model. It offers benefits for artists who they control their own content dissemination and access to their own fans. Unlike centralised streaming services, artists on Fanbase can directly engage with fans and incentivise their listeners to buy or complete actions in exchange for artist-branded coins.

Decentralisation using Lightstreams

Fanbase built on the Lightstreams Network showcases the protocol’s ability to let music makers share data with fans without middlemen and with no centralised control or censorship by the network. When an artist is in control of their community and content, the platform cannot limit what kind of content an artist or fans choose to share with one another.

This censorship-free environment means that content creators are empowered to use and stay on the network knowing they will not be suddenly disenfranchised from the business they have built around their content. The network has been engineered to be 100% decentralised as a direct response to the problems currently plaguing the content industry. If an artist or their community do not like the limitations of Fanbase they can freely move to another version developed by another team and can still continue and forever have access to their funds, content and historic activity.

A New Revenue Model For Artists

The economy is engineered with problems in the music industry in mind, where content consumption is exploding but revenue for the artists creating it is shrinking.

The coin system of Fanbase gives artists a new and unique revenue stream based on their current and future popularity. Unlike other coin systems that have a single currency with a fixed supply, each artist-based community will have its own currency where the number of their coins in circulation and the purchase price is a function of the artist’s popularity. For example, if the community was supporting Marshmello then the currency could be an MSH coin with a large supply because of his popularity. With this system of artist-based coins, Fanbase is engineered so that artists can generate revenue through capital investment in coins, subscription fees, and exchange fees when holders of their coins convert their funds to other currencies.

How to Make Bonding Curves for Continuous Token Models

The price of an artist coin is controlled by a CoinFactory service that creates coins in response to demand and at the same time increases the purchase price as the number in circulation increases. You can read more details about CoinFactory in this Lightstreams article.

Artist popularity and the number of coins in circulation are correlated as coins are created when fans acquire them in order to subscribe to become members of the artist’s community or are acquired and held by backers who believe the artist will attain more future subscribers. Initially, the price of coins set by CoinFactory will by low, offering substantial future rewards for early backers.

A Censorship-Free Voice for Diverse Communities

The entire ecosystem works to support the people that create amazing content and where new economies are built around that content.

Fanbase allows many diverse groups to freely share thoughts and opinions which are moderated by the artist and the fans themselves. Fanbase is built on a system of smart contracts that contain autonomous rules that govern how the system will behave and execute independently of the Fanbase’s creators. Rules are digitally signed by the artist or delegated community members and immediately distributed on the network as a public and immutable record for full transparency.

This system of independently operating smart contracts means that diverse groups of fans can flourish by their own complex, individual and constantly changing terms without being held back or controlled by the application itself

The Future of Fanbase

Fanbase’s long-term goals are to create a system that is scalable and can spread globally, giving users the best experience and the closest relationship with artists they love.

Content is to be easily published on Fanbase, which will function as an artist-based community, run Reddit-style.

In October 2018, Fanbase’s technical proof of concept was released along with the test network and pre-provisioned nodes for testing purposes.

Fanbase will go live post the mainnet launch of Lighstreams timed for Q1 2019. Stay tuned and please subscribe to our newsletter to be notified about the upcoming Lightstreams token sale.

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Michael Smolenski
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Thanks to the vision of Simon de la Rouviere, Dimitri De Jonghe, Patrick Kershaw, Mike Goldin, thibauld, David Truong, Slava Balasanov, Paul Kohlhaas, and the many others that have inspired my thoughts.

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