While half of America likely cheered the deplatforming of Donald Trump, crypto was calling for decentralized social media.
Facebook and Twitter have banned the President from their networks, while Google and Apple have taken rightwing social network Parler, off their app stores with Amazon also pulling its web services from the app, taking it offline. The move has sparked a debate on whether social media giants have outsized power and if a user-governed alternative is due.
Coinbase and Paradigm co-founder Fred Ehrsam framed the dialogue’s shift saying, “ ‘Why decentralization matters’ went from theoretical to mainstream overnight.”
Delphi Digital co-founder Tom Shaugnessy expanded, telling The Defiant, “recent deplatforming events have demonstrated the need for truly decentralized social media apps not because we shouldn’t deplatform certain people, but because the community should be the one to make the decision, not a CEO.”
For Arguments Abound
To be sure, arguments in favor of removing Trump from social media abound. Noam Chomsky, MIT professor emeritus and political commentator said in an email shared on Twitter, “The argument is simple. He’s extremely dangerous, and delaying his appearance for a brief period is not substantial interference weighed against the dangers. In fact it is quite mild as compared with common practice by other private organizations.”
Others in the cryptocurrency space agreed. Hudson Jameson of the Ethereum Foundation tweeted, “it’s perfectly acceptable if you don’t like that they banned Trump or want them to unban Trump. It’s not okay to say Twitter should be forced, via government or otherwise, to unban him. He broke the terms of service of Twitter, a private company. Period.”
Crypto-Based Services Benefit
Regardless, the bans have left some turning towards alternative crypto-services. Gab.com, an alternative social network which uses Bitcoin as a form of payment, tweeted that they received 1 million sign ups in the past 48 hours. And DLink, the video streaming service with an integrated token reported 150,000 viewers on the day rioters stormed the capital, demonstrating that crypto companies can gain new users in response to perceived free speech infringements of other platforms.
At first glance, it would appear that censorship affects the crypto social apps more than DeFi. But Isiah Jackson, author of Bitcoin and Black America, offered another perspective on Twitter, quipping, “AWS (Amazon Web Services) banning Parler means ‘DeFi’ will actually have to decentralize now.”
Jackson expanded, linking to a 2019 study which found that 62% of Ethereum nodes use some type of centralized cloud service. Worse yet for decentralization proponents, Amazon provides web services to roughly 25% of nodes, meaning the tech giant could potentially knock a quarter of the Ethereum network offline.
As DeFi is a nascent subset of crypto, the open finance industry has thus far largely escaped censorship. Tech giants are exerting their influence over information, not money. Though as DeFi gains in prominence, the sector’s core principles of a non-custodial, open, transparent, and decentralized financial system may be tested.
Shaughnessy offered some bracing words for those concerned that transaction censorship is on the horizon, telling The Defiant, “I find it hard to believe AWS would block Ethereum Nodes as a multi-hop way to censor applications built on top of it. This would be akin to AWS suspending support for Netflix because its catalog included a highly controversial docuseries.”
Still, Shaughnessy added a word of caution, “If the government were to come in and force AWS’ hand, that would be a different story.”