In brief

  • Discontent grows online with the centralized policing of social media platforms.
  • Tyler Winklevoss tells Decrypt what he’s looking for in the next YouTube alternative.
  • Messari explains why it didn’t change platforms after their Twitter shadowban.

With gatekeepers increasingly policing coronavirus content, discontent with legacy social media platforms is festering online. Is now the time for decentralized and uncensorable alternatives to finally get traction in the mainstream? Tyler Winklevoss thinks so—and he's willing to put some money on it.

“A central party should not play referee,” Winklevoss told Decrypt. ”Rules should be made by a platform's community of creators and users, not a small group of executives cloistered in Silicon Valley.”

There are plenty of recent examples. Yandex, a Russian version of Google, blocked online protests where citizens dropped pins on its map app to voice their displeasure with the coronavirus lockdown. Facebook blocked plans for quarantine protests in real life. Twitter has been called out for shadow bans and the throttling of impressions. And YouTube started blocking content that contradicts the World Health Organization's guidelines.

Building the social network 3.0

With all these problems in mind, the Winklevoss twins have tweeted that they’re looking to invest in a Youtube alternative. But the new platform better be decentralized and protect free speech, they tweeted.

Tyler Winklevoss told Decrypt he’s looking for platforms “where users have full control of the content they create.”

“A native token should accrue to those who bring their resources to bear on the platform, such as creators getting paid or 'tipped' for the content they produce, users for their engagement,” he said. “Both creators and users should have a say in governance, which will invariably lead to interesting debates and forks down the road—which is a good thing. Those who have different ideas can always opt-out and start their own platform, similar to schisms that we see in religion."

Given the Winklevoss brothers' history with the social network, their interest in building another is not to be taken lightly.  They claimed co-credit for coming up with the idea for Facebook—and reportedly won more than $150 million in stock and cash as part of a civil court settlement with Mark Zuckerberg. So who better than they to build a crypto-charged, next-generation social network that fixes the many problems that beset generation 2.0?

Tyler Winklevoss conceded that incumbents “are well within their rights” to police their platforms. But he pointed out that  now is the right “time to build more democratic alternatives.”

Where do we go from here?

Some platforms, such as Mastodon and 3speak, have already attempted to clone platforms like Twitter and Youtube. The “free speech network” Gab, which exemplifies Winklevoss’ point on forks to new platforms after disagreements, has also gained some traction with over 1 million registered users as of last year.

But Gab developed a reputation for attracting the hate-speech crowd, and thus far no free-speech platform has caught on with the masses.

And even the victims of centralized censorship are unwilling to take their followers elsewhere. For instance, the crypto analytics firm, Messari, was recently caught in the crossfire over COVID-19. The company and its founder, Ryan Selkis, were briefly shadowbanned on Twitter as they sounded the alarm on the virus in March, and released a dashboard which tracked the virus alongside market fluctuations.

“You're talking about maybe a few million users compared to a few hundred million on Twitter, and closer to 2 billion on YouTube and Facebook,” Messari’s marketing lead Connor Dempsey pointed out to Decrypt. “With a small team, we don't have the luxury of committing to decentralized alternatives until they hit that kind of scale.”

Perhaps the incumbents themselves will willingly become more Web3-ish. Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, a prominent advocate of Bitcoin, has said he wants to eventually decentralize Twitter through his Blue Sky Project.

But in the meantime, there’s definitely money to build a better, Web3 version of Twitter and others.

“The pandemic has reminded us just how little control we have over our data, and how much power and influence we've entrusted to a very few,” Tyler Winklevoss said. “These centralized platforms make up their own guidelines with respect to 'misinformation' and dissent, many of which are arbitrary and at odds with the principles that our country was founded on.” Instead of cloning the incumbents, maybe it's time to create entirely new social media platforms with free speech and decentralization principles in mind.