It’s The Centralization, Stupid!


August 17, 2021 10:52AM

Everyone has a problem with platforms. If you’re on the left, you’re worried about unmoderated speech. If you’re more like me, you’re worried about limitations on speech. And most people get annoyed or creeped out by the massive, personalized datasets for ad targeting that keep the whole thing financially afloat.

Democrats want to impose more speech guidelines on platforms, whether managed by government bodies or non-profits. Republicans want to fight back against existing content controls by removing liability protections from platforms or imposing legal counterweights to the types of speech that may be removed. The latter group is missing the point.

So long as the platforms that most people are centralized by design, there will always be a single administrator for powerful groups, public or private, to target. Control the administrator and you can control the platform. 

This arrangement works very well for political actors with enough power to exert control over the administrator. Republicans are almost never among them. The bills that they do manage to pass are only as strong as the judge that will inevitably decide their legal fate. 

Spending time and energy to pass unconstitutional or merely controversial anti-censorship bills that eventually get thrown out by some judge wastes precious political momentum. To achieve the goals of free speech and freedom from control on the internet, liberty-minded policymakers should think about ways to encourage and use decentralized alternatives.

Decentralized technologies have no central administrator that can be captured to effectuate the goals of powerful groups. They are either federated, like email, and allow people to connect freely through a third-party service or with their own personal servers, or they are distributed, like Bitcoin, and are fully peer-to-peer.

There are many working decentralized alternatives for the platforms that draw the most controversy, such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter. Critics of these companies should learn about and use these decentralized technologies. Policymakers should think about how they can encourage their development.

This conversation dives into my recent James Madison Institute study, “Deplatforming and Freedom: A Primer for Policy.” We talk about how technology can be both a tool for resistance and control, the difference between centralized and decentralized technologies, and why people on the right should familiarize themselves with decentralized platforms that have freedom built into them by design.


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