The saying, “Everything in moderation, including moderation,” has taken on new meaning since Facebook outsourced responsibility for content moderation to its Oversight Board following the violent events that occurred at the United States Capitol back on Jan. 6, 2021. First conceived in November 2018 as Facebook’s “Supreme Court” for public appeals, the social media giant’s Oversight Board was officially enacted on Oct. 22, 2020.
In its time since, the Oversight Board has overturned many of Facebook’s own decisions on what is and is not free speech. Some of the board’s rulings include overturning decisions meant to limit hate speech and false pandemic claims. While this all sounds quite formal and matter-of-fact, nuance lurks beneath the surface.
In 2016, an internal Facebook presentation claimed that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools.” Two years later, another Facebook presentation confirmed that their “algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness.” If Facebook’s own research indicated valid, science-based reasons for reform, why outsource the responsibility to a new “independent” legal structure in the first place?
Less wrong still isn’t right
While it is not my job to wade into the politics of what happened, Facebook should be responsible for developing content recommendation and moderation strategies that do not exacerbate political polarization for profit.
For example, last month Facebook issued a haphazard attempt to model community moderation after Nextdoor, the controversial neighborhood app. While Nextdoor has had fewer moderation problems than Facebook globally, its ongoing localized issues with misinformation, in-fighting and accusations of biased community moderators still set a low bar for private group moderation as a whole. This borrowed band-aid needs serious reconsideration.
In terms of content moderation, Reddit represents a step in the right direction by using a community-based upvote/downvote system on fora like r/wallstreetbets. Reddit CEO Steve Huffman claims that Reddit’s moderation system “has not seen any nefarious behavior” take place in r/wallstreetbets, showing the power of community action.
Despite presenting a content moderation system that’s slightly better than that of Facebook, the centralized nature of Reddit still poses a threat to open discourse and the marketplace of ideas. As a result of centralization, Reddit communities are not entirely self-governed or self-regulated. This means that practices such as shadow banning may occur, which can be seen as blatant violations of free speech in certain circumstances.
Social crypto governance
The new era of social media platforms must uphold the values of decentralization, democratization and transparency — all of which are the driving forces behind crypto. Embodying these values, crypto social applications present a powerful alternative to Facebook and Reddit by enabling decentralized decision-making, where no authority can reign supreme and where blind trust is not a prerequisite for participation. They are designed by open-source communities around the globe to improve the status quo for the purpose of social good. These crypto social applications rely on bottom-up and middle-out governance instead of Facebook’s top-down hierarchical power structures. And they do it in the name of crypto social justice.
Based on public blockchain technologies, these crypto social applications empower a new era of “don’t trust, verify” — and provide a practical way to do so. Examples of crypto social organizing include decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs. These headless organizations operate based on community-derived rules that are employed to vote new features and functionality in and out of use.
Many DAOs feature governance tokens which give DAO members financial incentives to vote on proposed actions. Voting is done by staking your financial claim to a proposed action. If the action passes, the new feature is implemented by the community. If the action fails, staked governance tokens are returned to DAO members. However, if a member acts in a way that breaks the community-set rules, their governance tokens are slashed and voided from having any financial or functional value. These are the basic rules of financially incentivized DAOs. Ideally, some of the same DAO mechanics can be used for content moderation more broadly.
Self-regulating community moderation
Along with DAOs, another solution to problematic moderation practices can be found in content creation platforms — decentralized, user-owned, crypto-based networks. By joining such platforms, users become their co-owners. This means that the power rests in the hands of consumers as opposed to an out-of-touch corporate board, thus better upholding the rights and responsibilities of the community.
Critically, crypto does not solve all the problems that content moderation has experienced historically. What it provides is a technological basis with which community mechanics can be organized from a bottom-up and middle-out perspective that empowers free speech in safe ways.
While the onboarding process to participate in DAOs has been historically difficult, there are new crypto social applications that seamlessly streamline the experience to improve accessibility. Moreover, by equipping users with pseudonymous usernames, these new onramps can cut off unproductive ad hominem attacks at the source, providing fairer opportunities for all.
Giving people the tools they need to interact civilly and productively opens up opportunities for online inspiration and collaboration. Designing these tools together is what makes DAOs and crypto social both uniquely powerful and just.
In an October speech of 2019 at Georgetown University, Mark Zuckerberg said: “You can’t impose tolerance top-down. It has to come from people opening up, sharing experiences, and developing a shared story for society that we all feel we’re a part of. That’s how we make progress together.” He was right, but for the wrong reasons. Crypto social applications can help right those wrongs.
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