Forget Cryptocurrencies: The World Needs BlockChain Tools For Free Speech And The Free Flow of Information
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is attempting to bolster the socialist country’s collapsing currency and floundering economy by turning to cryptocurrency. Maduro’s effort to unilaterally introduce the “sovereign bolivar” and its cryptocurrency backer the “petro” is largely viewed as an unlawful scheme intended to help the Maduro government circumvent international sanctions and raise desperately needed foreign dollars without fixing the underlying issues behind Venezuela’s economic collapse. Cryptocurrencies, such as the highly popular Bitcoin, have attracted a great deal of cash, but speculative investment has transformed them into investment bubbles that are quickly collapsing. Unfortunately, cryptocurrencies have not lived up to their hype, but the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies has far more important applications, especially for socialist countries.
Venezuela does not need a cryptocurrency. What it needs is a government willing to confront the truth of its over-reliance on commodities and social welfare programs. It needs a government that tries to cultivate a pro-growth business environment instead of booby-trapping businesses with undue regulatory hurdles and other limitations. Above all, Venezuela needs a government that respects the views of its People and responds to the interests of its People instead of crushing dissent. A cryptocurrency cannot do any of that for Venezuela. Blockchain technology does, however, offer those living under the rule of oppressive governments hope. The internet is a tool that delivers the knowledge of the world to anyone with a computer or a smart phone. It also connects people to each other and new ideas. Like any tool, the internet also tends to have a dark side. Under the control of an oppressive government, it is a tool of suppression, but blockchain can help with that.
With that in mind, Google would like to frame its decision to cooperate with the Chinese government and offer a censored version of its service as an opportunity for the Chinese Peoples, yet it truly is not. It will simply lure the Chinese Peoples into a false sense of security when using the internet and give Google practice with censorship tools, which will ultimately expose the rest of the world’s population to a new threat. Whether it is the Communist Party of China or Google, the power to control what people learn and how it is prioritize is the power to manipulate public perception. It is the power to blind people to facts and shutdown public discourse. It is not something anyone or any group should have. The driving force behind the development of the internet was, after all, the desire to transcend the barriers of too little information from too few sources. There is little social benefit to having the internet in places like China, if the Chinese government controls what information is seen.
That said, blockchain technologies offer, at least, two major benefits that might be useful in addressing this issue. First, they are very secure. Second, they do not fall under the centralized control of any authority. In terms of social benefits, blockchain has no greater valuable than securing the freedom of expression and the free flow of information. Cryptocurrencies allow people to send money without being traced, but the world does not need more dark money. Dark money exists primarily to obscure the wrongs of those who commit crimes and corrupt authorities. What people need is the ability to express themselves and learn without interference from government. In some countries, e.g. the United States, the freedom of speech discourages government censorship and compels government to protect the freedoms of individuals. In other countries, government silences free expression. For those in oppressive countries with access to the internet, there is a need for secure channels for communication and the dissemination of unfettered information, which is something blockchain can be used and is being used to create.
In China, the so-called #MeToo social media movement against sexual harassment and assault is so popular that government censors have struggled to keep pace, which blockchain has played a part in. The Chinese Peoples are far more permissive when it comes to intrusions into their personal lives than the Peoples of democratic societies, but sexual harassment and assault appear to be a limit. The #MeToo movement is a rallying call for them. It shows that even an oppressed population, a population which does not recognize basic rights to free expression and personal privacy, are compelled to engage in democratic exercises when motivated by a worthwhile cause. There is power in numbers. When people share the same cause and when they have the ability to connect, they will realize this power and they will use this power to assert their interests. Censorship and other means of oppression are designed to keep people separate. It is done to keep people from working against the powerful, yet open civil engagement is solely what forces the powerful to work for the common good of all. Through the internet and blockchain technology, the Great Firewall of China and other tools of oppression can be demolished. The world just needs the tools. The people of the world need those who can build the necessary tools to build them.
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