Not for the first time, Alex Jones finds himself at the center of a controversy over internet censorship. The radio show host and conspiracy theorist has alleged the US Government orchestrates school shootings and ‘white genocide’; that Michelle Obama is a man; and that the Pentagon is secretly pumping chemicals into the water to turn the population gay.
But this week, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube said they had had enough. Jones has been banned from their platforms for infringing policies on hate speech. Resisting calls to follow suit, Twitter refused to block Jones, citing a commitment to a “healthy conversational environment”.
His message may be unpalatable to many, but Jones’ ban opened up a whole new issue. Do private, for-profit companies and business executives have the right to act as gatekeepers and censors to online debate?
The Rise of Internet Censorship
“One of the main problems we have at the moment is a centralized stance on interpreting what’s good and bad”, says Mick Hagen the CEO of Mainframe, a censorship and surveillance-resistant platform.
Apps like Slack or Facebook allow service providers unrestricted access to users’ messages. Not only is this an infringement on privacy, according to many advocates for consumer protections, but it places companies in a position of power. Tech giants can monitor and control the flow of information and restrict controversial views and opinions. “The Alex Jones story has really brought the matter home over who has the right to censor other people”, Hagen adds.
Mainframe began five years ago as a decentralized communications protocol which prioritizes its users’ right to privacy and control over their own data. It facilitates private communications using encryption and cryptography, preventing third-party interference.
This isn’t particularly new; Whatsapp and Telegram both offer encrypted messaging services, but Hagan explains it is still possible to glean enough metadata, like location and IP address, which determine identities.
“This is a textbook NSA tactic”, Hagan says. “They may not know what’s actually being said, but if they want they can still restrict communication between two parties through something like a DDOS attack, which essentially denies them access”.
Mainframe uses dark routing. In conventional peer-to-peer networks, messages go straight to the intended recipient and no one else, making it easy for third-parties to work out who is talking to who. It sends the message out to practically everyone in the network, “…here’s the kicker, the message itself can only be accessed with the receivers’ private key: it remains completely confidential between the sender and intended recipient”, Hagan explains.
Mainframe’s privacy makes it a useful tool for free communication in autocratic or oppressive regimes where the right to self-expression struggles at the best of times.
Centralized encrypted messaging services, like Whatsapp and Telegram, are not permitted to operate in countries like China. Hagan says it would be impossible for governments to restrict access to Mainframe because of its decentralized infrastructure. He explains there’s no ‘backdoor access’ for the core team to check on what’s being said or who’s using it.
“The network just isn’t controlled by us,” says Hagan. “It exists between users and there isn’t a centralized server which authorities could turn off or hack into; Mainframe can’t be tampered with nor can it be barred from certain geographical locations.”
Enrypted messaging services are under pressure. Authorities in America and Europe have pressed companies like Facebook to provide backdoor access into users’ messaging services. The UK Home Secretary even accused tech companies of giving terrorists a “place to hide” from the law.
Mainframe isn’t the only decentralized communications protocol out there. There are a plethora of privacy coins already in existence which cannot be tracked. ZenCash is busy developing an encrypted messaging service; Everipedia uses blockchain to protect its encyclopedia from government control. Minds is about to launch on the Ethereum network.
Internet censorship is increasing around the world. Rather than expanding individual freedoms, the Chinese government harnessed social media to create a nationwide surveillance apparatus to observe and track its billion-plus population. The popular Chinese messaging app WeChat admitted in September last year it gave government officials full, unrestricted access to users’ profiles.
The more solutions that promote individual freedom, the better. Alex Jones may be a loathsome character but society needs to ask itself whether a few tech companies, and Jack Dorsey, should have the power to decide what the rest of the world listens to.
Disclaimer: The author is not invested in any cryptocurrency or token mentioned in this article, but holds investments in other digital assets. The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of Crypto Briefing in general.