Free speech problems everywhere
Governments and Big Tech alike have gotten much more heavy-handed of late.
Re-sharing below the latest edition of #Web3Weekly, my regular newsletter about decentralization. This installment covers Oct. 10–16, 2021. If you’d like to get #Web3Weekly in your inbox every Sunday, please subscribe here.
Does anyone on the internet even understand what free speech is anymore?
I know it’s common these days to bellyache about this issue anytime a social network temporarily suspends a single loon claiming aliens put computer chips in the COVID vaccine. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. The number of worrisome anti-speech actions by goverments and Big Tech crammed into the past week was truly above and beyond:
- LinkedIn said it will shut down its flagship service in China because of onerous “compliance” requirements. Translation: Censorship by the Communist Party. Sadly, the move validates the approach of other U.S. tech companies that have reluctantly stayed out of China altogether to avoid making stomach-churning compromises on users’ rights.
- Missouri’s governor threatened to sue the state’s biggest newspaper for “hacking” because it reported on an egregious security bug on a government website. Reporters found this bug by — gasp! — inspecting the site’s HTML code in their web browsers.
- YouTube briefly de-platformed Anthony Pompliano, a popular podcaster covering bitcoin. His channel was at first deleted, ostensibly because Pomp was encouraging unspecified “illegal activities.” Then he was reinstated after an uproar from fans. An interview he did with market analyst PlanB seemed to be a particular flashpoint in the controversey.
- Apple fired Janneke Parrish, a program manager on Apple Maps who’s organized an anti-discrimination movement within the company dubbed #AppleToo. The move immediately spawned accusations of retaliation, which Apple denies, of course.
- A firestorm erupted at Netflix over Dave Chappelle’s jokes about LGBT people. This one is so complicated, I’ll just recommend the excellent explainer that Time’s Andrew R. Chow wrote about it. A great starting point to understand the whole mess, which seems likely to take awhile longer to play out. Netflix management is resisting activists’ calls to take down Chappelle’s special, and an employee walkout in protest is planned for Wednesday.
Of course, beyond the crucial matter of who ges to say what, when, and where online, we had news on a bunch of other fronts as well last week. Let’s get to those headlines:
- An exchange-traded fund tracking bitcoin is expected to begin trading this week. Multiple news organizations reported Friday that U.S. regulators will allow ETFs proposed by ProShares and Invesco to begin trading this week. Bitcoin leapt back above $60,000 on the news, up 11% for the week. The crypto industry has long hoped for an ETF as a tool to widen bitcoin’s appeal to everyday investors, who will be able to trade the ETF through traditional stock brokerage accounts.
- Crypto startups are booming. Companies in the category raised a record $6.5 billion in venture investment in the third quarter, according to Blockdata. Meanwhile, The Block reports that publicly listed bitcoin mining firms based in the U.S. are holding over $1 billion in BTC.
- FTX launched a regulated U.S. marketplace for non-fungible tokens. Unlike competing trading venues like OpenSea, FTX’s new platform will allow users to buy NFTs using conventioanl bank accounts, wire transfers and cards, according to Decrypt
- Polygon hiked its minimum transaction fee, or gas price, by thirtyfold to discourage spammers. (Of course, there’s a risk this could also discourage activity that’s not spam as well. But hey…)
- Ripple and Nelnet launched a new joint project to fund solar energy projects throughout the U.S.
- Space has been a busy place lately. NASA launched a robotic spacecraft on a 12-year mission to study the asteroids near Jupiter that may hold hints about the origins of our solar system. Separately, Jeff Bezos’s startup Blue Origin flew the actor who played Captain Kirk barely over the atmospheric threshold where outer space begins, for a few minutes. Guess which one of these things is a bigger technical achievement. Guess which one got more mainstream press attention.
That’s it for now. Thanks for spending some time with the newsletter today! A full revision history of it, including earlier drafts, is available here. If you’d like to get updates like this in your inbox every Sunday, please join our email list here.
As ever, a quick disclaimer: This newsletter is intended for journalistic purposes only, not as investment advice. For the latter, please DYOR and consult appropriate financial pros to make the most suitable choices for your needs.