eb2 gave users autonomy. A platform to collaborate and create content, Web2 allows virtually any individual to share their thoughts and connect with anyone, anywhere. Social media, one of Web2’s most powerful instruments, enabled pro-democracy protests, from the Arab Spring in 2010 to Hong Kong in 2019.
But now, Web2 has gone off the rails. The present-day Web2 is a fertile ground for misinformation, censorship and anonymous trolls.
This is why decentralizing the web, where data ownership remains with individuals, is a key piece of the solution. A peer-to-peer (P2P) system, where anyone can interact with others without the need for an intermediary, is the underlying principle of blockchain, a building block of Web3.
However, a P2P protocol by itself, will do little to rectify the woes of Web2. Ultimately, the promise of a better Internet lies with those who build and use Web3.
Web2 is Failing Users — We Need a Better Internet
The centralized nature of Web2 platforms gives a handful of actors monstrous power. Cambridge Analytica collected millions of Facebook users' data without consent to manipulate political opinion. The centralized databases of Web2 make them more susceptible to cyber-attacks. Further, governments globally use these platforms to surveil citizens, eroding privacy rights.
Web2 is under the dominion of a few gatekeepers who practice censorship at different levels. China has strict rules about what content is available to users. Russia has plans to leave the global Internet infrastructure (domain name server) and build a national intranet. In India, Meta has given a nationalist IT leader the special privilege of being able to delete controversial Instagram posts at a whim.
Today, Web2 serves a tiny fraction of the 5+ billion that use it. People need an Internet that will protect them and will be inclusive.
The Problems with Web2
And What the New Internet (Web3) Should Be
Web2 exploits privacy: In 2015, a security researcher found a database containing voter information of 191 million Americans was readily available on the Internet, thanks to an "incorrectly configured database."
Web3 needs to be private: where users own their data and can selectively reveal information. Businesses cannot collect, store, or monetize data without user consent. This not only gives data ownership to users but also minimizes the threat of data breaches.
Information on Web2 is Unverifiable: Fake accounts, bad actors and bots spread misinformation on Web2. As Web2 applications are largely closed-source, there is little clarity on information provenance and information is unverifiable.
Web3 needs to be verifiable: where the information on the web is factual, canonical and cannot be tampered with. The new Internet needs protocols that will verify information.
Web2 is subjected to censorship: At the onset of the Mahsa Amini protests, the Iranian regime shut down the country's access to the global Internet and prevented users from accessing VPNs. Iranian people were forced into an information lockdown.
Web3 needs to be free from censorship: centralized platforms are subject to censorship, whether from individual leaders, company heads or authoritarian governments. The new Internet must be censorship-resistant, allow free participation and defend against denial of service.
Vincent Berthier of Reporters Without Borders commented, "The Islamic Republic's strategy is cruel – locking its people into an empty information space and blocking all escape routes."1
Unfortunately, information lockdown, manipulation and censorship have become all too common features of the current web the world over.
A P2P-Based Web Holds the Promise — Not a Guarantee — of A Better Internet
Unlike the client-server model of the present web, where communication happens via central servers, the peer-to-peer, blockchain-based web would allow users to connect directly with one another. Finance in this space is similarly decentralized; that is, a user can send/receive money to another without a central issuer or clearinghouse.
Given the absence of central authorities, a P2P Web3 holds tremendous potential for people — especially those historically marginalized — to organize, collaborate and work together for social justice.
No centralized servers mean the P2P web will be less volatile and resilient to cyber-attacks, Internet outages, and even natural disasters, improving connectivity for all users. Similarly, being decentralized means an authoritarian regime cannot control it or repress information sharing or access to the Internet.
However, a P2P system comes with its own challenges. The same features that make it easy for anyone to participate and organize without censorship have enabled hate groups to promote bias, bigotry and racism. As governments pressure Big Tech to remove hateful messages from their platforms, extremists have flocked to P2P systems. Mastodon, which started as a decentralized social platform, is now a neo-Nazi hangout.
The Success of a P2P Web3 Will Depend on How It’s Built and Who Uses It
If Web3 is going to fulfill its promise of being the better Internet, developers must take steps to mitigate the potential for amplifying hate and abuse.
Founder of Planetary.Social Evan Henshaw-Plath says, "My hope is that we can build a social layer that lets us build a whole world where we don't need permission to participate or organize and create spaces that encourage egalitarian and humanitarian prosocial behavior. The web does a ton of that and even social media does a ton of that. And we have farther to go. If we're successful [at using P2P technology for this] we will have new problems to deal with."2
Web3 needs tools that will optimize positive collaboration and social impact while restricting consequences, like amplifying marginalization.
Emmi Bevensee, a Mozilla Open Web Fellow and founder of the Social Media Analysis Toolkit, wrote in her paper, The Decentralized Web of Hate, "The trust we give each other is much harder because it asks us to take responsibility for our environment, but it can be more democratic and ultimately more liberatory. P2P technology is introducing much more meaningful avenues of choice and, as such, uniquely frames this relationship between freedom and responsibility."2
In these early days of Web3, developers, founders, and users can make the most difference in how the next Internet unfolds. Web3 presents a unique opportunity for people to collectively take on challenges like the climate crisis and social injustices once and for all — as long as it's not overrun by hate.
Rabble is a decentralized autonomous organization helping like-minded people with a passion for social and climate justice come together to work and make a difference in their communities.
We rely entirely on our members and follow a community governance structure that aims to hold everyone accountable.
We don't aim to follow Silicon Valley in scaling up; we're standing in support of small groups who work together to make tremendous impacts wherever they are. Rabble exists solely to cater to the needs of grassroots movements, empowering activists to fight for social justice, providing them the tools that will help continue their work, and rewarding them for it.
Join us on @rabbleio to build a better web and a just world.