Art by: Jing Jin
In the past decade, technology has assisted protests and social movements in a way few predicted. While most political commentators were wondering about the effectiveness of public protests, activists in the Middle East were overthrowing governments with significant help from a certain social network that limits messages to a brief 140 characters.
Regardless of what situations those countries find themselves in now, the power of protests could not be denied. It hasn't been a fast track to freedom (see: Egypt) but it can undoubtedly get things done. The use of social media and technology was talked about to the point of exhaustion during the Arab Spring, until it almost seemed like the little Twitter bird had deposed President Morsi itself, so there is no reason to get into the details of how sites like Twitter and Facebook helped sustain protests through coordination.
The amplifying impact that social networks had on protests was significant. No doubt, it was overblown by the mainstream media organizations who tend to flow like water to the easy story, but its impact did not go unnoticed by the regional powers who were fearful that the Arab Spring may be coming to their doorstep.
Even Turkey, perceived as liberated enough for consideration into the European Union, banned the use of Twitter and YouTube. Ostensibly for allowing the spread of military information, but just about everyone agrees it actually had more to do with the spread of embarrassing information. In either case, Prime Minister Erdogan felt that his stated goal of “eradicating” Twitter (and YouTube) was important enough to piss away Turkey's chances at becoming a full member in the EU anytime soon and ended up with egg on his face when the Turkish high court ruled the ban illegal anyway.
Here is the thing about Twitter though, it doesn't exist to help protests. Twitter, like most corporations, exists to make money. When it came time to negotiate, Twitter was more than happy to oblige Erdogan and took steps to block the “offending” content in Turkey. The attempt at appeasement fell short and Erdogan banned Twitter anyway, but Twitter still showed its willingness to censor speech to keep its userbase growing. Twitter may be happy to soak up all the positive press when their network is helping oppressed people overthrow their oppressors, but are willing to take the PR hit, if it starts affecting their bottom line.
The root of the problem isn't Twitter's ownership however, the root of the problem is that for as distributed and invisible as the Internet is, certain gate keepers still hold certain levers. Namely, ISPs and Governments. They may not be able to shut down the internet or parts of the internet, but they can make accessing it and parts of it difficult for the general population.
Mesh Networks operate without these gate keepers. Using hardware in devices (typically Wifi in phones) they create a local network that doesn't depend on a connection to the internet. Essentially, it is an “intranet” like you may have seen in school and offices in the late 90s and early 00s, only more fluid and without the need for a centralized router.
The obvious applications for this in protests and other large events where internet coverage is spotty are immediately apparent. There are a few Mesh Network options out there already, FireChat most prominent among them, but Blackwave Labs wants to use cryptocurrencies as a way to make mesh networks much more than just a localized chat room, they want to give groups and protestors tools that the regular internet never could.
Bits uses Mesh Networks and something called Quorum Sensing to take what is essentially a bunch of people standing in an area independent from each other, into something that can communicate and coordinate together and potentially be more self-sufficient. You can think of it as “Protesting 2.0.”
Bits creates a localized and secure network whenever two or more participants decide to join one. Quorum Sensing determines how many participants are in a network and opens up more features as the network grows and becomes more stable. Two users can chat and form joint accounts together. Three or more users open up group chat rooms and the ability to key sign messages and build a digital “circle of trust” that can then be expanded to other members. It is when ten or more users get together that things get really interesting however.
Once ten members or more are connected in the network, tools open up that can help organize and coordinate activities and protests. Funds can be raised and transparently managed, digital tickets can be issued and redeemed using NFC or QR code and one Blackcoin can be broken up and distributed for voting, which seems like it would be a lot more effective than waving your fingers in the air.
Bits is one of two upcoming Blackwave Labs projects (the other being Onyx, a Blackcoin payment gateway) and was inspired by the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. It isn't hard to see how its tools could be effective in places like Ferguson and the aforementioned Hong Kong.
Internal tickets could be distributed, miniature economies already spring up in long term protests, with Bits that could be taken to the next level. Stores could be opened instantaneously with nothing other than products and a cell phone. Tokens could be used as a temporary internal currency, holding the promise of mementos or voting rights later. Blackcoin can also be used, and it would be interesting to see what kind of effect the mixing of money and protests could have. What happens if millions are donated to a protest and everyone is aware of it? Opportunists are not an uncommon site at protests, generally hawking shirts or books that they promise go towards helping the cause. Will the greed heads descend onto the next big protest once they hear news reports that there are millions of dollars worth of crypto donations flowing into it? What kind of effect will that have?
FireChat has already proven invaluable. It has proven that Mesh Networks can be extremely effective in not only protests but in war torn areas like Iraq as well. The question is, will the participants find Cryptocurrencies useful? As advocates of the technology, it is easy for us to see the possibilities. But the cryptoworld isn't a Kevin Costner film. Just because you build it, doesn't mean the masses will come. But protests around the world are increasing as Crypto technology is becoming more accessible, if there isn't at least some cross over, it seems like a missed opportunity for both sides. The tools for Protesting 2.0 are being built and with them, the revolution will be digitized.
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