- People flagging posts on steemit.com.
- People removing content from a website that they themselves control (so long as most browsers can access most websites).
- People disagreeing with you and denying you access to their audience.
We all participate in the same social community on Earth. No person is entitled to an audience that was grown or cultivated by any other party. Each person or group's ideas and publications must stand on their own.
If you think about it, denying someone the editorial control over their own website is itself a restriction on their freedom of speech. It is as much an infringement of someone's rights to tell them they must publish something they disagree with as it is to tell them they must not publish something.
People getting banned from the site at twitter.com: This is within the discretion of the owners of that domain name. People getting filtered or limited on facebook.com? Same thing. When you publish exclusively into a centralized site, a small group of people control the maximum distribution of your message.
The great thing about the Steem Blockchain is that no one group can decide how far your message spreads. steemit.com, for example, is hosted in the United States. Under US law, several types of content are illegal to host, and will necessarily be censored from this domain name, but will remain in the Steem Blockchain. Other people or groups, not bound by US law, will be free to provide access to that exact same content stored in the Steem Blockchain on their own websites. (Some will attempt to independently monetize that content, which will bring them into conflict with the rightsholders of the content so monetized. How that ends up playing out will be interesting to everyone who cares about the intersection of national jurisdictions with a borderless internet.) There are already several such sites that provide a view into the full content of the Steem Blockchain (at least 4 or 5 independent ones), and we hope that by the end of 2017 that number is 100 or more. Several initiatives have been undertaken to make it as easy as possible for people to do so, and it will get easier yet in the future.
The thing to remember is that being denied access to a publishing on a specific website is not censorship. Each operator of each site has, within their own personal freedoms, the final say of what gets published on their site. This is the nature of the internet. Everyone with uncensored internet access is free to register a domain, buy hosting in the jurisdiction of their choice, and participate in the global network.
The Steem Blockchain allows a community to publish, grow, and thrive independent of any one site, which is the unprecedented aspect of our amazing community, and is the reason I have dedicated my productive energies to its promotion and growth. (Prior to this, I have managed various addictions to BBSes, Usenet, IRC, LiveJournal, Reddit, Hacker News, and many others, almost all of which were centrally controlled by one person or a small group.)
The last time we had anything remotely resembling such a decentralized community on Earth, it was called Usenet. Another similar structure was email-based mailing lists, but both eventually crumbled due to the issue that all censorship-resistant communities face: with growth comes a "free" audience for spammers. Eventually, readers leave when their time is mostly spent dodging crap instead of reading posts of value. Failure to maintain a decent signal-to-noise ratio is hard enough in centralized sites (it requires a big team to stay on top of the 24/7 banning of spammers, loud nazis, et c), and is extra hard in a decentralized model (as it must be done in the client application that processes the global feed of posts). Back in the old days, that meant email clients, which used a mechanism called "killfiles" (a local text file that contained a list of sender addresses that you would ignore, sort of like our current mute lists). This worked back when email addresses (used as source addresses for posts to usenet and mailing lists) were relatively "expensive" (generally, you only got one) but now anyone can generate millions of throwaway email addresses for free. A better approach is required today. (It's actually a good thing overall, as cheap new identities improve the prospects of anonymous speech, which is critical for expressing unpopular views and avoiding the tyranny of the majority.)
It has always been my personal belief that "the correct answer to speech that you don't like is more speech". The correct answer is never to seek to silence those who are doing the speaking. What this means in practice is empowering those doing the listening to decide what they want to listen to, using that additional speech as advice. I, for example, don't want to hear from people I have no existing relationship with who want to try to convince me to visit their site/page/blog, or to buy their product or service. The content my web browser displays is filtered based upon lists published by third parties who have collected the domain names of people publishing such content that I am not interested in—an ad blocker extension.
One side effect, though, of providing readers tools to stop listening to low-value speech or speech that is offensive to them is that those who are reduced in eyeballs/eardrums will cry "censorship" very loudly, even when their declining audience is the audience's decision, not that of any gatekeeper. As has been echoed many times, freedom of speech is not freedom from the consequences of one's speech. Whenever someone makes an accusation of censorship against another party who doesn't own any jails or guns, make absolutely sure to double-check that they're not just saying things lots of people aren't interested in hearing.
The nature of a blockchain makes it impossible to silence or delete content that is committed into blocks, which is an incredible strength. It permits a better model, however, which is the best of both worlds: the "more speech" moderation system. Just as spammers and nazis can publish into the blockchain, I can publish lists of things I think are unreadable garbage. Neither of us can shout over the other—we both have equal standing in the database, and neither of us can force people to read or ignore us or the other. The complete power lies in the hands of the reader.
The last step to enable this ideal model is building client-side tools (software, applications, and websites) to allow people to subscribe to those opinions of others, at their own choosing. This makes everyone a top-level moderator of their own personal reading experience.
Back over on Twitter, where they had a pretty large problem of misogynistic pseudonymous accounts harassing and threatening women (gamergate), Randi Harper came up with a tremendous idea called ggautoblocker. It subscribed to a list (that she edited and published) of in-her-opinion harasser accounts, and allowed anyone who wanted to run ggautoblocker to download her list and automatically block all of those accounts on their own Twitter account. All of it was completely voluntary and opt-in, and I was inspired. This model is the future, and Twitter should have adopted it site-wide.
I wanted to see it expanded to apply to any arbitrary list of users on Twitter. Twitter already has a "lists" feature. Wouldn't it be great if you could bulk follow or bulk mute/block any list created by any other user, that updates automatically as they update their own list? Then, you could outsource your moderation to people or groups that you trust, and not have to spend your whole day wielding the banhammer at shitlords. An added bonus of this decentralized model is that if one list didn't cover someone, maybe one of the other lists you follow did. It would work both for blocking people as well as following people, covering both the "ggautoblocker" use case for avoiding harassment/deplorables (are we allowed to use that word again yet?) as well as the positive flip-side of uncovering valuable posters, replacing the tradition of a weekly "follow friday" content discoverability workaround.
It is my belief that we, as the final arbiter of the websites we visit, are each personally in ultimate control over what we read (or, more importantly, don't read) online. The process right now is mostly manual, but the software tools are going to improve vastly in the coming years. Eventually, you will subscribe to your own chosen curators (+) and moderators (-), the way you presently subscribe to websites or authors.
I look forward to the day I can read right-wing news feeds, with the comments sections pruned by left-wingers, and vice versa—at my personal option, day to day. The possibilities here under this model are huge. We can't read everything, so the tools we use to decide what subset of things to read must get smarter, more automated, and more personalized.
The precise way in which these forms of moderation will be implemented on steemit.com are still subject to change. We have only just begun the process of formally specifying our first small moderation features (as they relate to our impending Communities implementation) and the exact way it will function on the site.
The requirements are fairly clear, but the implementation is still being fleshed out. There are many strong opinions on the matter, all of which I listen to diligently. I hope that you share yours (along with your justifications, explanations, and use cases) in the comments below, and, critically, be prepared to civilly discuss each's downsides and failure modes, too. It is a necessary bit of negativity when doing product design for something that is to be used by millions of people, some of whom are total jerks; anything we come up with, spammers are vigorously going to attempt to work around.
The eventual implementation is likely going to annoy some people, or is going to be abused in various ways by some other people. Engineering is a series of trade-offs: it won't be perfect, it will just be better. We firmly believe that we can build something unprecedented, that functions better than anything else ever built, preserving censorship-resistance and simultaneously delivering to readers a high signal-to-noise ratio. It's a relatively hard problem: many, many sites have tried, and almost all have failed. (Most professional sites, today, having better things to do, just disable comments entirely, which is in my opinion a modern large-scale tragedy.)
With your help, understanding, passion, and creativity, I know that together we will reach a new standard for the marketplace of ideas that will inspire people well into the future.