In the name of freedom of speech, alternative media are increasingly being used to discuss topics that are often avoided in regular mass media. The Intellectual Dark Web, for example, is a group of thinkers, academics and media personalities expressing their visions through podcasts, YouTube, Twitter, and sold-out auditoriums. With millions of followers on a daily basis, they are rapidly building their own mass media channels to discuss issues that, according to them, have become politically inconvenient but nevertheless important to address. Gab.com or 4chan are other well-known examples of controversial media that define themselves as platforms for freedom of speech. Both the Intellectual Dark Web and Gab.com are often associated with the Alt-right movement, even though both platforms’ creators deny that this is correct.
What does this mean?
Far more than traditional media such as newspapers or television, the internet allows for the expression of ideas that are not in line with what is considered (politically) correct, stirring up the debate on freedom of speech rights and how far they should reach. Where the Intellectual Dark Web mainly uses the internet to facilitate intellectual or scientific arguments on certain topics that are not addressed as such through regular media, social media platforms such as Gab.com mainly aim to offer a place where one can vent on any topic, regardless of whether it is well substantiated or considered ethical.
As we wrote before, attempts at creating an open and decentralized internet such as Blockstack are well underway. This can provide even more possibilities than the present internet to express ideas and launch social networks that might not be in line with what is considered (politically) correct or, in a worst-case scenario, even thought of as a threat to society. Gab.com, for example, was shut down last Sunday because the suspect of the attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh had posted anti-Semitic messages on the website. However, Gab.com is planning to relaunch itself through Blockstack, avoiding traditional infrastructure and support mechanisms in order to realize the idea of a place “in which creators support free speech and defend the free flow of information online” beyond the reach of centralized authorities. When more well-known platforms move to a decentralized internet, this can lead to a substantial increase of users of this alternative internet. In turn, the debate on freedom of speech rights and how far they should reach could become even more pressing.