Social media: to decentralise or not?

In recent days in Europe the media was all over the possible bans and restrictions on social media contributions. Most of the prominent social media outlets are run by big, centralized corporations like Facebook (included Instagram), Twitter and Google. There seems to be an ever increasing urge to weed out ‘hate speech’ and ‘fake news’ postings and comments. The big corporations have been acting accordingly and went forward vigorously not in the least place to align with local laws. The tightening rules have already led to many instances of Twitter users who have been confronted by their new or adjusted rules.

The situation concerning social media last week intensified as the German law regulating the limits of free speech on Internet  (NetzDG) asked Twitter to remove a message placed by Afd politician Beatrix von Storch. The French president Marcon went as far as to forbid the use of social media accounts during election times in order to stop the spread of fake news and hate speech. In the past such law proposals or actions were associated with regimes that put a hard stance on the freedom of speech but now even countries where the freedom of speech still looked to be intact come into the line of fire.

No matter how clear or detailed a nations constitution in respect to the limits of free speech, there will always be unclear situations. A complication is that lawful actions are always enticed against social media. Especially ‘fake news’ by mainstream media is hardly regulated, correction after complaints or decisions in court afterwards are being honoured.

The new situation from western governments towards social media is clearly dangerous for the freedom of speech in these countries. A decentralised blockchain can also offer a solution for a new type of social media. In such a scenario there would be no big central corporation like Facebook or Twitter who can operate along their guide lines to make their own interpretations of freedom of speech. There are no (supra)national governments that can dictate what information is within the terms of (supra)national laws.

The published social media information would be stored in a blockchain and would be available from the ‘Genesis’ block, the very first posting onto the latest additions, so all information ever published in the blockchain will always stay there.

There will be complications and challenges involved in such a scenario. Typical blockchain data as we know it, is mainly related to crypto currency like Bitcoin. The big challenge with crypto currency is to overcome the hurdle of ‘double spending’  which needs extensive security measures to be trustful and successful. The social media data needs to be trustful as the integrity of information is from an identified poster and published information can not be altered or removed. It is however obviously that it needs another level of security than compared to financial transactions. The data being generated with social media can get quite overwhelming quantitively  (number of publications)  and is intensive (images, sound and video). From a perspective of usability there would be a need for a multi layered, scalable system where most recent data can be served to its users instantly, as where older data can be retrieved from full network nodes operating in the background. This situation is similar to the Bitcoin blockchain where now attempts are made to discriminate between the ‘store of value’ aspect versus the ‘transaction’ aspect.

There needs to be an incentive for all involved to keep processing and storing the data. Social media like Facebook and Twitter might be experienced from an user standpoint considered as ‘free of use’. Yet there is a business model behind the activities, like targeted advertising and marketing: the user becomes the product. This business model would need to be translated into  an equivalent in a decentralised world. Social media blockchain based platform Steem offers an alternative business and hopefully viable model.

Finally there is the issue of anonymity versus the real identity of the poster on social media. Operating on social media as a identifiable ‘real’ person has its benefits because it will lead to users better taking responsibility of their postings. Whenever the poster can operate (somewhat) anonymously there will be a greater sense of freedom to  express or even publish false information. That is where the dilemma of non-destroyablity of information in the blockchain comes into play. If information is false or harming the information still will be there ‘forever’ on the blockchain and searchable or findable for users. This is an extra argument for identifiable, real users in order to raise the level of responsibility. The fact that information will stay forever on the blockchain will also contribute to how people (literally) expose themselves and face the consequences of such actions.

The flip side of real identities is that users in situations where there is no freedom of speech will be heavily hindered in expressing their views and might face personal consequences from governments. In such cases a decentralised social media system might better not used and instant messaging application are probably more suited. In any way there will need to be an admission process to the decentralised social media system whether it is based on the anonymity versus identifiable discussion there has to be measures taken to guarantee the identity of a person involved.

Ewald Kegel, Jan. 6th 2018, Nootdorp

Downfall of Netherlands (Country of naive fools)

In Douglas Murray’s Strange Death Of Europe an apocalyptic novel from 1973 was mentioned, The Camp of the Saints or Le Camp des Saints, the original French title. The subject of the novel dealt with an apocalyptical vision of an uncontrollable immigration that would leave Europe to a major  dilemma for the politicians (letting the masses in would destroy the Europeans, refusing to let them in would destroy the refugees). The novel at the time of publication was slaughtered by the critics and handled as a racist piece. Put in perspective to the same ineptness that European leaders demonstrated in recent years with regard to immigration, the novel had “an uncomfortable habit of bobbing back to the surface” as Murray puts it.

It made me think back of an apocalyptic publication that appeared in 1990 in the Netherlands: Downfall of Netherlands (Country of naive fools) or De ondergang van Nederland  (Land der naiëve dwazen) as the original Dutch title. Like The Camp of Saints the publication was in the Netherlands surrounded with the same kind of animosity as its precursor in 1973. Ultimately the book became banned and the supposed author went on a  trial and was convicted to pay a fee. I do not know if Downfall was unknown to Murray or he deliberately left it out, but it would have presented an interesting addition to be mentioned in Strange Death. It deals with most aspects that Murray writes about concerning the incompatibility and unavoidable confrontation between immigrants with islamic belief and the secular, indigenous Europeans as well as its hateful reception by media and the elite.

Contrary to Camp of the Saints the origins of the author of Downfall are vague and partiallu unknown. The name of the author in the book (Mohammed Rasoel) was a pseudonym and Dutch journalists (later even scientists) went to great lengths to uncover the true identity of the author. Many names popped up, but until today there is no conclusive answer to the origins of the author. The book was published just after the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and it is made clear in the preface the author wishes to remain anonymous to “avoid the mistakes of Rushdie”.

The style of writing shows that the author has a perfect grasp of the Dutch language and uses very specific Dutch words and expressions, something that would be almost impossible to expect from an immigrant that by the time of writing stayed in the Netherlands for some 10 to 15 years. On the other hand the situations described from the homeland of the immigrant as well as the description of the culture and traditions show an insight that goes beyond of someone who has lived his life in Western Europe. So it seems most likely that the book is the result of a cooperation between a Dutch writer and the immigrant with his roots in the Middle East.The preface mentions the aim of the book “to warn the Dutch that their optimism, naivety and guilt are misplaced when being confronted with Islam” and that “if the course of their actions is not changed drastically they will destroy and give away their own culture and ultimately their country”.

Except for the short preface, the book is described from the perspective of the immigrant/ author who tells about his origins and education. It is a concatenation of deceit, harsh upbringing and corruption. A climate where there is no place for self reflection or self critique, things that would be interpreted as weakness. His contacts with tourists from Europa make him aware that there may be another world outside the one he grew up in. For some vague reasoning, he decided time had come to leave his homeland in the Middle East behind.

After arriving in Greece and travelling around Europe, he ends up in the Netherlands and has big issues to adapt to the mentality of the Dutch. The Dutch seemed full of self-criticism and guilt, characteristics unknown to him until then. A relationship with a Dutch woman fails because of his distrust to the woman and the attempts of the woman to change him approaching him with a typical Dutch mentality. The Dutch, in his opinion, make the mistake to project their own feelings on immigrants, who can not relate to intentions of self-recflection or admitting short-comings.

These cultural differences form the largest part of the story and the general trend is that the author describe the Dutch as naive, civilized and with a complex system of do’s and don’ts. These characteristics are non-understandable for muslims especially the fanatic ones, in the authors view the majority. The author leads its reader though a number of uncomfortable thought provoking situations and positions that caused the banning of the book and the author’s trial.

In the last part of the book the author shifts attention to what will happen in the nearby future summing up how and what will change in The Netherlands seeing landmarks in 2010, 2020 and 2050. The author describes there will be laws supporting the views of muslims, like prohibition of nudeness in window shops. A few, brave Dutch will protest these laws, but will be condemned as racists by the public. He expects the Muslims to have organised their own networks that are being controlled by foreign countries like Iran. The muslims will set up a limitless influx of migrants through their political influence. In 2020 the first part of the downfall will have taken place: the Dutch culture has been lost and the Dutch will live without a soul, regretting because of all that has been lost what had been built up for centuries. Around 2050 the downfall is complete. There is a state of civil war and many Dutch people have escaped to other European countries. The Netherlands itself will be split between an old-Netherlands, where the muslims will be deported to and a new-Netherlands where the indigenous Dutch will build a new society.

If we look at the current situation in the Netherlands, most Dutch have doubts about what is happening in their country: the level of immigration has been extremely high over the past 20 years. The population grew from 15 to 17 million people and the immigration of muslims was the most important factor responsible for that growth. The origin of people with an Islamic background however is very diverse and they operate within their own communities, there is not one islamic front. Their political influence is still relatively small and hardly sufficient to suspect preoccupied policies to favour Islam.

Downfall is almost 30 years after its initial publication a readable and interesting document. Although back in the day condemned as a racist pamflet, it still has a  relevant and actual message. It serves as an uncomfortable reminder what happens when you put two rather opposite cultures together while the receiving culture does not set a clear set of instructions how they expect the coming culture to behave and operate.

Downfall is available in the Dutch language and can be downloaded or read online (curiously enough from a regular government site that protects and preserves Dutch literature). An English unauthorised translation can be purchased. In 2003 a Dutch professor (Teun A. van Dijk) published a lenghty essay in which he tried to demonstrate that the author of Downfall was  famous Dutch author (Gerrit Komrij), who always categorically denied having anything to do with the publication. This essay has interesting background information about the history of the publication and the commotion it caused in 1990. In 2013 a TV documentary by Dutch State Broadcasting (NTR) was released with a focus on the background of the author.

More about the question of authorship

In general I did not like the above mentioned TV documentary, because it is too eager to point the authorship in the direction of an artist with a Pakistan background (Zoka F.), who would later be trialed more than once on matters like rape and pedophilia, besides his conviction for publishing Downfall. Some interesting points were made in the TV documentary however, that also were recognised by van Dijk (but totally ignored in the TV documentary for further investigation) :

  • Downfall was supposed to originally written in English pieces by Zoka F.  who delivered pieces of the document to a translator (Rene Kurpershoek) who then pieced together the Dutch text
  • Before the publication of Downfall, there were some columns (pre-publications) in an established Dutch newspaper (NRC Handelsblad) that are identical to the content of the book. Was Kurpershoek also involved in those columns?

Van Dijk in my opinion rightfully concludes that the story about the translation was a masquerade to distract attention to a Dutch author (whomever that might have been). In that scenario the problem remains that the book contains a lot of information about Middle East muslim culture, which makes it to me impossible that a Dutch author would have been responsible for the whole text. Therefor I still believe that Downfall was a cooperation between a Dutch author and an muslim immigrant.