Few days ago, ahead of the January 14th parliamentary and presidential elections in Uganda, the Ugandan government imposed a stringent restriction on Ugandans from using social media platforms and the internet. Unfortunately, Uganda is just one of the many culprits of censorship in the world. Several countries like China, Nigeria, Chad, Iran, Syria and Sudan are also enablers of internet censorship.
In 2019, the government of Chad blocked access to social media platforms for 197 days, consequently causing the country to lose $125.9 million. This shows that beyond a violation of the fundamental human right of citizens that grants them freedom of expression, internet censorship can be extremely harmful even from an economic perspective, and can equally cripple democracy in a democratic state.
It is possible for governments to prohibit access to the internet and the use of social media because these systems are controlled by central authorities. The Domain Name Service(DNS) is critical to the operation of the internet. It maps human-readable domains to IP addresses(“where a website resides”). The DNS system, however, is centralized, and, thus, enables governments to enforce access restrictions to any particular website that they deem unfit for public access or perceive as a threat. The government can also order service providers to block access to the internet. All these are possible because of the centralized operational mechanisms of the internet, and could be circumvented with the implementation of a decentralized system.
It is not a mere exaggerative appraisal when blockchain is hailed as a possible solution to almost any challenge in the world because, indeed, blockchain could provide a solution to many of our existing challenges including a solution to combat this disturbing issue of internet censorship.
Cryptocurrencies could help in transmitting information unrestrictedly, although they would not be able to create the same level of seamlessness and a “viral effect” in information transmission like the regular social media platforms. Blockchain transactions, via cryptocurrencies, can be used to convey information without the risk of censorship. For example, in China, the ethereum blockchain was used to convey messages pertaining to the viral #MeToo movement in 2018, which involved a case of sexual harassment, involving Penking university in China, that allegedly led the rape victim to commit suicide. Turning to blockchain for communication protected a Chinese student’s viral open rape allegation letter, which exposed the sexual harassment issue, from censorship, as the university was relentlessly attempting to cover up the issue, and had already ensured that the letter was removed from popular Chinese messaging app, WeChat.
The #MeToo activists were able to anonymously send messages on the sexual harassment issue and preserve the #MeToo letter from censorship, by sending themselves zero ether and embedding the information in the ethereum blockchain, which hosts the cryptocurrency, ether, via the metadata of the transactions. This depicts a way of utilizing blockchain to fight censorship and promote freedom of speech.
Another way to decentralize the internet and combat censorship is to create websites with decentralized domains that reside in the blockchain. This is because decentralized domains, like .eth, .bit, . crypto, etc, are stored in multiple locations, thereby, making it virtually impossible to censor them. With this kind of decentralized system, a platform would not depend on a single service provider like Amazon to host its content. A platform with a decentralized domain would be practically unstoppable and resistant to censorship.
As long as platforms that facilitate communication, and websites, still remain dependent on a centralized system, it would be very difficult to evade censorship. However, with a technology like blockchain which can facilitate decentralization, we can effectively fight against censorship and build a censorship-resistant system for communicating.