by Chelsea Barabas, Neha Narula, and Ethan Zuckerman
Over the last 13 years, Facebook has evolved from a lifestyle site for college kids into a cornerstone of civic life. It is one of a handful of very large platforms that dominate our online world. As such platforms have gained traction, the web has transformed from an open space for free expression into a corporate-owned gated community of private platforms.
The power of giant platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter leads to problems ranging from the threat of government-ordered censorship to more subtle, algorithmic biases in the curation of content users consume. Moreover, as these platforms expand their reach, the ripple effects of exclusion can have serious consequences for people’s personal and professional lives, and users have no clear path to recourse. The platforms that host and inform our networked public sphere are unelected, unaccountable, and often impossible to audit or oversee.
In response, there is a growing movement among free speech advocates to create new technology to address these concerns. Early web pioneers like Brewster Kahle have called for ways we might “lock the web open” with code, enabling peer-to-peer interactions in place of mediated private platforms. The idea is to return to the good old days of the early ’90’s web, when users published content directly in a user-friendly decentralized fashion, without the need for corporate intermediaries and their aspirational approach.
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